While playing an increasingly important role in the financial results at major food and beverage companies, markets outside the U.S. have become launching pads for innovative products and ideas. However, at the same time, many of these countries have begun to suffer the same health-oriented ills plaguing Americans, notably obesity and the related maladies of heart disease and type II diabetes.

Within this gray cloud, however, is a silver lining. With obesity concerns prompting the demise of certain carbonated drinks in many U.S. schools, other beverages have access to a new, unexplored market, and the same is happening elsewhere. The European probiotic drinks market, currently estimated at 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion), is growing 30%-40% annually, and has attracted many new entries. Ocean Spray International (Bridgwater, Somerset, U.K.), for instance, is well-known Stateside for its juice drinks, but has taken its health-oriented efforts a step further in the U.K. and Ireland. There, the company has introduced Ocean Spray Plus Probiotic Yogurt Drink, containing L. Acidophilus La-5, bifidobactera BB12 and fruit juice, for “a positive balance of friendly bacteria in the digestive system.”

Obesity may be a serious health issue around the world but, as of yet, the low-carb diet craze in the U.S. has gone little noticed elsewhere. Coca-Cola (Atlanta) may open the floodgates this summer, however, with its launch of C2 in the U.S. and Japan. The mid-carb drink will have half the carbohydrates of regular cola.

Coca-Cola, however, has more functional endeavors underway for Japan. Under its Georgia Area Blend brand, the company has four canned, ready-to-drink coffees, each formulated specifically for four different regions. Targeting northern Japan, Hokkoku boasts the most sugar of the four, “to combat cold and energize the body.” Metropolitan Tokyo gets Kanto, offering a moderate combination of sweetness and milk, while southern Japan gets Nangoku, with more coffee than the others, and a bitter flavor suited “to the more temperate climate.” Osaka and Kyoto residents can enjoy Kansai and its 17% milk content, catering to the areas' preference for milky coffee.

Going Local

Indeed, tailoring products for specific locales has proven quite the popular route for product introductions. In Asia, many regional companies have catered to local tastes, but PepsiCo's (Purchase, N.Y.) Frito-Lay, in particular, has proven to be a major company willing to cater to local tastes. In China, the company added a Porphyra (seaweed) variety to its Lay's potato snack brand, which also has benefited from a lemon-flavored variety in the same country. Similarly, the company added a Sencha Green Tea variety of potato chips for Thailand's market.

Lay's local efforts are not exclusive to Asia. However, for a launch in Europe, its Smiths Food Group adds a premium touch by using a named cheese variety. Mediterraneas Greek feta cheese-flavored crisps also are made with olive oil.

For that matter, the focus on local flavors for snacks is not exclusive to Frito-Lay. Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati) has flavored its Pringles brand in such varieties as curry in the U.K. and “Funky Soy Sauce” in Japan.

Such local thinking spurred one of the most popular products found at the Global Tasting Session at Prepared Foods' New Products Conference last year. Under its Doritos brand, Frito-Lay introduced A la Turca corn chips to the Turkish market. Developed specifically for Turkish tastes, A la Turcas contain poppy seeds and have a dried tomato flavor. If attendee preferences are any indication, A la Turcas could have quite a following in the U.S. The product was the session's runaway favorite, as was a Ruffles Intense variety at 2002's New Products Conference. Made with cheddar cheese and jalapeño chili pepper, these wavy potato chips retail in Mexico under the Sabritas brand. (For more information on attending the Global Tasting Session and this year's New Products Conference, contact Marge Whalen, 630-694-4347, whalenm@bnpmedia.com.)

The next big trend in snacks around the world could well be functional varieties of favorites. While few major companies have ventured into this territory, a number of smaller brands have added functional ingredients to potato snacks. Celigüeta (Araia, Alava, Spain) has two functional ranges. Chip Sport includes carrot-flavored snacks with phosphorous and prebiotic fibers, while Snack Fibra boasts yogurt-flavored potato rings with calcium and fiber, as well as cheese-flavored, crinkle-cut chips with active bifidus and prebiotic fiber.

Items positioned as more-healthful already have begun appearing in confectionery aisles, notably in the fruit roll-ups segment, where Kellogg (Battle Creek, Mich.) introduced its Winders line to the U.K. several years ago. The three flavors--strawberry, orange and blackcurrant--contain 50% real fruit and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and these were followed closely by identical flavors in the same market from Rowntree's Fruit Squoosh, a Nestlé (York, U.K.) brand. Again, fortification seems poised to reap benefits for companies. Healtheries (Auckland, New Zealand) has added iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc to its fruit rolls--Kidscare Real Fruit Waves.

In the cereal category, children's brands also are heading toward being more healthful. In the first extension in the brand's 76-year history, Kellogg's has debuted Rice Krispies Muddles in the U.K., boasting prebiotic inulin as an ingredient. The company has extended beyond simply the healthful, however. In South Africa, its Coco Pops Jumbos takes the familiar breakfast treat into larger territory, while the Milky Chocs variety boasts brown and white chocolate-flavored wheat scoops.

Normal Fjolk

In Germany and Austria, meanwhile, the company added a packaging innovation for the premiere of its health-oriented cereal targeting grownups, Kellogg's Fjølk & Corn Flakes. The twin-compartment product has a portion of multi-grain cornflakes with a separate serving of “fjølk," a fresh, mild yogurt-milk made with original Scandinavian cultures. A similar product, Frosties Crrrunchy Choco, is available for children. This is not Kellogg's first such effort, though To Go Twinpots had little success in the U.K., where it included cereal, semi-skimmed milk and a sachet of sugar. However, the inclusion of fjølk may attract consumers in the area and, again, reflects the potential inherent in localizing flavors and offerings for particular markets.

Few, if any, brands hold claim to as many extensions as Nestlé's KitKat line. Until recently, the U.S. had only the well-known crisp wafer and chocolate variety, although recent years have seen the incorporation of white and dark chocolate, as well as a move into bite-size servings. Elsewhere, though, the line has experimented with such seasonal flavors as strawberry, caramel, melon, berry and banana, all of which have proven popular in Asia. There, the confection also has appeared in a Summer Pine variety. However, this combination of crisp wafer fingers with pineapple-flavored milk chocolate is the first such version to expand outside of Asia, venturing to South Africa in March, 2004.

Mars, a division of Masterfoods USA (Hackettstown, N.J.), likewise has added new flavor varieties across its line of confections around the world, but in this case, the company has brought the more-successful launches to the U.S. The almond variety of Snickers is seen in the U.S., but also debuted in Singapore and has expanded to Norway and Germany.

The company debuted one of its biggest recent successes in Europe. Mars' “Bisc &” (“Cookies &”) range added several confection varieties to a cookie format and launched in 2001. A year later, Mars would introduce “the next generation of cookies” Stateside, under the “Cookies &” banner. This launch proved so successful that the company is extending the idea in the U.S. to include M&M minis in a chocolate bar rather than a cookie--from confectionery to the cookie aisle back to confectionery--ah, the circle of life, indeed.

Beverages have taken a similarly adventurous flavor route, as evidenced by a number of introductions from Coca-Cola, its Fanta line in particular. In Hong Kong, the brand has a Cheeky Lychee variety, while a mango version is found in Thailand. In addition, the Sprite line has had quite the flavor focus. Residents of Hong Kong can find Sprite Super Lemon, Sprite Ice (the lemon-lime beverage with a hint of mint, seen in a number of countries, including Canada) and the new Sprite on Fire. Currently exclusive to Hong Kong, Sprite on Fire has a wild hot and ginger taste specifically designed for the local market, another indication of the value of tailoring introductions to specific locales. Some may view these markets as a testing ground for products before launching to a major audience; however, highly astute companies realize the importance not only of launching products there, but of formulating specifically for the respective area.

SIAL the World

In addition to the Global New Products Tasting Session at Prepared Foods' New Products Conference, the latest product launches and innovative ideas from around the world will be on display at SIAL 2004 in Paris. This edition, to be held October 17-21 at the Parc des Expositions de Paris Nord Villepinte in Paris, promises a “multi-specialist” event, with improved segmentation and new activities. A total of 15 product categories will be featured in four halls, with three halls devoted to national pavilions and regions of the world, as well as an area dedicated to exploring the local favorites found in France.

Furthermore, this edition of SIAL will offer a “Trends and Innovations” area, focusing on promoting the food industry's future by looking at consumer patterns in relation to the social, cultural and economic factors of the market.

The 135,000 visitors from 188 countries at the 2002 SIAL event had the chance to see a variety of trends and their influence on markets around the world. Products demonstrated the combination possibilities of sweet and savory, while also offering a glimpse of the opportunities for prepared foods in countries where freshness has taken a backseat to convenience. Handheld, on-the-go foods, flavor and format innovations, time- and labor-saving products, as well as items geared for healthfulness and indulgence, were available, with many demonstrating the success to be found in catering to local tastes and flavors.

For more information on attending or exhibiting at SIAL 2004, contact Colleen Callan, IMEX Management, 704-365-0041, colleenc@imexmgt.com.