WhiteWave’s Organic Soy Milk for Bone Health possesses eight of the top 10 components the “2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods” identified as being of more importance to food processors.

“Your mind. Your body. Your Total. 100% Calcium for your body. Antioxidants for your mind. And Total nutrition for every wonderful day ahead.” This opening script on General Mill’s Total cereal home page (www.totalcereal.com on 7/23/2008) is a functional foods-like message, as it offers benefits aligned with the body’s ability to function and hints at health conditions. Total’s message has changed from the 1970s, when ads primarily touted the product’s weight-management benefits. Over the years, line extensions were added and formulations altered to incorporate ingredients of growing interest to consumers. Thus, Total Honey Clusters recently was reformulated to include omega-3s, and its label promotes antioxidants for healthy brain function.

The cereal is also in line with the interests of R&D and marketing professionals, who responded to the “2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods.” As in recent years, “antioxidants” came in first of the survey’s 27 items listed as being of increasing importance. (See chart “Increasingly Important Ingredients.”)

Innovation with Ubiquitous Antioxidants

In May 2007,Prepared Foodspublished a supplement entitled “Antioxidant Products” that was well received by readers, according to a separate, follow-up survey. Some 70% of the 215 survey respondents said antioxidants could be used in their products. Additional comments gave insights into formulation considerations. One reader indicated it was useful to know which vitamins were considered antioxidants, so their company could derive multiple benefits, including potential claims, from a vitamin addition. Another reader appreciated a list of naturally occurring antioxidants in the marketplace.

The fact that antioxidants are inherent in many foods is a key factor in their top rank. As one reader noted, “There are so many antioxidants that R&D can plan products around the raw materials on which they want to focus.” Improved healthiness, increased potential for innovation, better revenues and profit margins, and increased shelflives were all given by respondents as reasons to develop antioxidant-enhanced foods.

Antioxidant content has helped propel the “Superfruits” concept. While Pom’s pomegranate juice helped garner much interest in the area, fruits now being promoted for their antioxidant content range from familiar cranberries and blueberries to the emerging açai and yumberry to the all-but-yet-unknown baobab and Kakadu plum.

Blending the familiar with the novel and exotic is a tactic often taken by processors, and this is common in the Superfruit category, as well. For example, Frützzo, LLC first introduced a line of pomegranate-based juices back in 2002. More recently, 100% all-natural juice blends, Yumberry with Blueberry and Yumberry with Cherry, were introduced. A company release quotes Terry Xanthos, president and co-founder of Frützzo, as saying, “We constantly scour the globe to find the most nutrient-packed ingredients available. Our introduction of Yumberry allows us to continue our mission of encouraging people to fight free radicals.”

While yumberries are edging into popular recognition, new antioxidant fruits such as Kakadu plums are in the very initial stages of commercialization. “Kakadu plums are not actually plums, but more closely related to almonds,” says Vic Cherikoff, a pioneer of the native Australian food industry, chef and biochemist. “It rose to fame in the 1980s, when we proved it as the world’s highest fruit source of vitamin C, but it is also rich in a host of other beneficial phytochemicals, including the antioxidants gallic and ellagic acids. The main industrial uses of Kakadu plum are as a purée or a gently dehydrated fruit pulp powder in nutraceuticals and cosmetics,” says Cherikoff. The bulk of current Australian production is wild harvested by indigenous Australian Aborigines under Fair Trade principles and business opportunity development initiatives, he adds.

 Mintel International’s GNPD reports that Kakadu plum-based packaged foods appear exclusively in New Zealand and Australia. For example, Australia-based Kakadu Juice International this year launched a Kakadu Juice Super Food Beverage “claimed to be a breakthrough in health and wellness food products…with renowned exotic fruits from around the world and is said to be a nutrient dense taste sensation.” The GNPD lists its ingredients as Kakadu plum, pepperberry, quandong, wild rosella, Illawarra plum, goji, mangosteen, pomegranate, açai, blueberry, barley grass, flax seed, green tea, grape seed and cherry. Currently, the fruit appears exclusively in personal care products, particularly skin care, in the U.S. and East Asia.

 While it may be a while before Kakadu plums go mainstream, such foods intrigue product developers. “Superfruits, emerging” ranked near the top as a response to Prepared Foods’ survey question: “What nutraceutical ingredients, or categories of ingredients, would you like to be better educated on?” (See chart “I Want to Know More.”)

Other plant-based products tout their antioxidant content, as well. WhiteWave Foods’ Silk Plus Soy Milk introduced a “For Bone Health” variety last year, announcing on its label that it has “extra antioxidant power,” with the footnote: “Through independent Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity (i.e., ORAC) laboratory testing of Silk Plus for Bone Health and 1% and 2% milk.” Like Total Honey Clusters, the product is a testimony to Prepared Foods’ survey results, as its label also lists eight of the 10 elements on the survey’s “Ingredients of Increasing Importance” list. Besides antioxidants, the soy milk is organic, fortified with vitamins, calcium, fructan (a prebiotic and a dietary fiber) and contains 6.25g protein per serving, as well as omega-3s.

Indeed, the NPD Group’s NPD Dieting Monitor, which examines top-of-mind dieting and nutritional-related issues, reports that consumers increasingly look to add whole grains, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and probiotics to their diets. In 2005, 36% of consumers surveyed said they were trying to add more omega-3 fatty acids to their diets. That number increased to 46% in the most recent NPD Dieting Monitor.

Quantifying, Differentiating and Defining Nutrients

Although research shows the subject of antioxidants and health is a complex issue, when it comes to antioxidant levels, the “more is more” philosophy often reigns. To their credit, manufacturers have worked to inform consumers of their products’ antioxidant content. Dozens of different methods to quantify antioxidant quantity exist, with ORAC values the most popular measurement used by marketers of packaged foods, pet foods and dietary supplements. Mintel International’s GNPD database turns up some 40 products since April 2002, noting their ORAC value. Most were dietary supplements launched in the U.S., although foods are increasingly communicating this amount, as well. For example, Safeway’s private label Lucerne Foods introduced Eating Right Blueberry Raspberry Flavored Juice this year. The company notes that the drink contains 100% of the DRI for vitamin C, and the 100% juice beverage provides 170 ORAC units per milliliter. “ORAC units are a measure of antioxidant activity,” it goes on to explain. Sharky’s Monkey Brains Real Blueberry Oatmeal, also introduced this year, claims “over 1,000 ORAC points, which is a measurement developed by the USDA to help understand how much antioxidants certain fruits and vegetables contain.”

Just as omega-3 suppliers strive to educate the industry on the differences between the omega-3 types, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the longer chained polyunsaturates from algae, fish and other sea creatures (DHA, EPA and DPA), so, too, the industry is moving towards differentiating types of antioxidants. In a press release, one company noted its blueberry juice-infused cranberry product contained twice the ORAC and nearly four times the PAC (proanthocyanidin), compared to blueberries, and more anthocyanins than cherries and strawberries.

Identifying Probiotics and Prebiotics

Indeed, differentiation is the name of the game for a supplier of any type wishing to rise above a commodity market strategy. For example, as interest in probiotics grows, suppliers and processors alike increasingly offer branded, but not always well-defined, probiotics—and the FDA is watching. An often-referred-to document is a 2002 report by a joint FAO/WHO Working Group called “Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food.” (See “Website Resources” at the end of this article for the 11-page report’s Internet address.)

Among suggested guidelines on labeling and other issues, the Working Group advised that in order to claim a food has a probiotic effect, the probiotic’s genus, species and strain be known, and efficacy and safety assessments in humans (in vivo) should be completed. The report notes that the “nomenclature of the bacteria must conform to the current, scientifically recognized names,” and suggested approved lists of bacterial names as found in Int J Syst Bacteriol. 1980,30:225-420 or at www.bacterio.cict.fr/ (which was to be updated August 11, 2008). Also, there are validation lists published in the Int J Syst Evol Microbiol. (or Int J Syst Bacteriol., prior to 2000). In regards to identification of the probiotic, the Working Group suggested the use of DNA sequences encoding 16S rRNA and that, if used, “this genotypic technique be combined with phenotypic tests for confirmation.” In the spring of 2008, Vasilios Frankos, Ph.D., director of the Division of Dietary Supplement Programs at the FDA, speaking at SupplySide East in Secaucus, N.J., noted the increased use of “fanciful names” for probiotic strains by the industry and reiterated that the FDA emphasizes the need to use valid names supported by sufficient phenotypic and molecular (e.g., 16S rRNA gene sequence) data to identify live bacterial strains used in dietary supplements.

More often, new products with probiotic bacteria contain prebiotics (ingredients that respondents to “Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods” also ranked in the top 10 as increasingly important to their new product efforts). Wikipedia defines prebiotics as a food component or ingredient that “resists digestion, absorption and adsorption processes,” but are “fermented by the microflora colonizing the gastrointestinal system” and that “selectively stimulates the growth and/or the activity of one or a limited number of bacteria within the gastrointestinal system” (visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prebiotic).

A recent example from Mintel’s GNPD is Canada’s David Chapman's Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Flavored Yogurt Plus Frozen Yogurt with Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis and inulin. Prebiotic products without the probiotic microbes are more common in many venues. For example, Kraft Foods’ Post Live Active Nut Harvest Crunch Cereal for Digestive Health notes that it “contains 3g prebiotic fiber per serving, which is a special type of fiber that helps the body stay balanced and healthy in two ways, working the body to produce more beneficial bacteria and helping to naturally regulate digestion.”

Although inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides are the most commonly used ingredients formulated into products as prebiotics in North America, a range of types of dietary fiber components that lay claim to that ability are used outside the U.S., such as xylo-oligosaccharide and galacto-oligosaccharides. The label of Mexico’s Sanissimo Tostadas de Maíz Horneadas Funcional (Functional Baked Corn Toasts) says, “prebiotic fiber for digestive health and energy balance” with only “corn flour and/or nixtamalized corn” and “resistant starch” as fiber sources in its ingredient legend. “While some scientists utilize a very narrow definition of prebiotic fiber, others are attempting to broaden it,” says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager, nutrition, with a supplier. “Regardless of the definitions, the market opportunities for dietary ingredients that promote digestive health through their fermentation effects in the large intestine are very promising.”

Health Conditions as Business Prospects

Both probiotics and prebiotics address a health condition that processors see as providing a new product opportunity. When Prepared Foods’ survey asked, “What ingredient characteristics or benefits present the greatest opportunity for your product development efforts?” (and multiple responses were allowed), digestive health fell in fourth place, with 30.9% of respondents giving it a “thumbs up.” First place went to “natural ingredients,” which 70.9% of respondents checked off;  “organic ingredients” won 41.3% of respondents’ votes; and “ weight management” came in third place, at 36.1%.

A range of unrelated conditions, such as gluten intolerance, inability to digest lactose and constipation, can be grouped together under the category of digestive health, which in turn calls on a range of formulations and ingredients to address these health concerns.

Some 19.6% of respondents to Prepared Foods’ survey listed “gluten-free” as a health condition offering new product opportunities. Many products are able to make a gluten-free claim, simply because they traditionally do not contain gluten-containing ingredients. In the case of certain cereals, snacks and baked goods, however, a parade of applied research has studied the ability of starches, hydrocolloid gums, dietary fibers and proteins to assist with their formulation. (Type in “Advances in Formulating Gluten-free Products” in the search field at www.PreparedFoods.com.)

Processors’ interest in digestive health is corroborated by their response to the survey question asking which ingredients they wished to be better educated on (see the “I Want to Know More” chart). Digestive enzymes ranked a somewhat surprising ninth out of the 41 items listed. Biologically, the body secretes enzymes to digest food along the length of the alimentary canal. Just a few examples include amylase, which breaks down starch in the oral cavity; pepsin, which breaks down proteins in the stomach; trypsin, which breaks down peptides in the small intestine; and lactase, which breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose, also in the small intestine.

The food industry has long used lactase to process lactose-free dairy products. Recent new launches include Target’s Archer Farms Organic Lactose Free Skim Milk and Organic Valley’s Organic Lactose Free, Reduced Fat Milk. However, it is the dietary supplement industry that has been most active in this area. For example, Whole Foods just introduced Chewable Papaya Complex Tablets, labeled as containing 28mg papain, 24mg amylase and 20mg protease, while Source Naturals launched RejuvenZyme Dietary Supplement for Heart, Joint & Immune Support, noting that it “contains proteolytic systemic enzymes that benefit the entire body.” The product lists a litany of digestive enzymes, quantifying their levels, including pancreatin, protease, amylase, lipase, bromelain, papain, trypsin, chymotrypsin and a proteolytic enzyme promoted for its anti-inflammatory benefits—“serrapeptase”—from the bacteria Serratia marascens.

Opportunities Require Careful Navigation

The dietary supplement industry often holds other clues on future opportunities for foods. For example, in the fall of 2007, CVS Pharmacy’s Focus Smart Dietary Supplement offered consumers a blend of ingredients with various reputations for cognitive benefits, such as memory and/or reduced stress. While some, such as huperzine A, Bacopa monnieri extract, vinpocetine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, an amino-like compound for reduced stress) are in the realm of the dietary supplement industry, others, such as phosphatidylserine, grape skin extract, grape seed extract, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA in fish oil) and choline bitartrate, are used in foods. Some are traditional, while some are recent introductions.

Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) consist of a family of isomers of linoleic acid that are naturally present in certain meat and dairy products. They are trans fats with antioxidant properties that have been supported by a history of research into their health benefits. With a high profile and long-used in the dietary supplement industry under several consumer brand names, this summer (2008) the FDA issued a “no objection letter” to a notification of a self-determined GRAS status by two CLA suppliers. This means CLA can more freely be formulated into fluid and flavored milks, soy milk and fruit juices, as well as yogurts, milk-based meal replacements, meal replacement bars, soy milk and fruit juice applications at levels not to exceed 1.5g per serving. “…Food companies are now in the remarkable position that they can add this ingredient to their products and make unique and marketable claims around reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle, based on a body of clinical science that spans over 20 years,” noted one supplier’s press release.

Indeed, a letter of “no objection” is as good a response for a new food ingredient as the FDA has under its current system. Such a letter lowers or eliminates a key new product hurdle, according to respondents to the “2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods,” which asked, “When it comes to an emerging health ingredient and its use in a new product, which of the following factors are you or your company concerned with?”

Some 54% of those surveyed checked off “Newly published research casting doubts on its health benefits;” “Newly published research suggesting previously unknown health risks;” and “Temporary consumer interest (a fad)” as top and of equal concerns. “Regulatory change removing GRAS status” was a concern of only 40% of the respondents.

The carotenoids, a class of compounds with various health benefits and functional uses, such as antioxidants and food colorings (depending on the specific ingredient), offer case histories. For example, studies have pointed to various health benefits of lycopene. A 1995 study by Harvard University researchers, conducted with 47,894 men, reported that eating 10 or more servings a week of tomato products was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer by as much as 34% and concluded, “lycopene or other compounds in tomatoes may reduce prostate cancer risk” (Giovannucci E, et al. 1995. J Natl Cancer Inst. 87:1767-76). In May 2007, researchers at the Cancer Prevention Program, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published a study with the result that there was no observed association in blood lycopene levels between men who developed prostate cancer and those that did not (Ulrike P, et al. 2007. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 16:962-968).

Since then, lycopene studies continue to roll out. To name just a few, one supports its possible anti-inflammatory role in asthma (Lee CM, et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Jul 16. [Epub ahead of print]); another concludes it has no affect on biomarkers of vascular oxidative stress and inflammation (Denniss SG, et al. 2008. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 4:213-22). Yet another reports that, although lycopene was not associated with reduced risk of endometrial cancer, certain other carotenoids were (Pelucchi C, et al. Cancer Causes Control. 2008 Jul 1. [Epub ahead of print]). Currently, the FDA allows heavily qualified health claims for tomatoes and prostate, ovarian, gastric and pancreatic cancers (www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/qhclyco2.html).

Lycopene and lutein were mentioned by only 10% of the functional foods survey’s respondents, as ingredients they wanted to be better educated on. As an antioxidant phytochemical that retains a halo of health and an FDA-approved colorant, Mintel’s GNPD notes that new products in both the U.S. and Canada continue to promote the presence of lycopene.

Introducing new products with less traditional nutritional components can help differentiate a new product and give it a leg up over potential competitors, but greater care also needs to be taken to track new nutritional research, potential regulatory changes, media biases and, of course, consumer interests. All in all, such care has slowed product development efforts.

Subhead: Health Claims Up, Development Speed Down

General Mills’ Total Honey Clusters cereal was reformulated to contain omega-3s, and Kellogg’s Kashi Heart To Heart Honey Toasted Oat Cereal was reformulated to contain white tea. With the goal of offering consumers products with ingredients increasing in popularity, such formulation changes are generally faster and require fewer resources, compared to launching a new product concept. With both types of product launches, however, it appears companies may be decreasing their “need for speed.”

In this year’s functional foods survey and in a Prepared Foods’ R&D investment survey conducted in 2000, the identical question was asked: “On average, how long does it take your company or division to get the following types of new products to market? Write number of months.”  Reformulations, line extensions and new concepts now roughly take a month longer. (See chart “Speed Kills.”)

“There are more regulations, more policies within a company, and companies are generally more cautious in the product development process than in 2000,” says Lynn Dornblaser, director, CPG Trend Insight, Mintel International Group. “There was a greater tendency then to develop products and just ‘drop them’ on the market to see what happens. It’s more expensive to get products on shelves today. A more conservative approach is seen by the fact that fewer flavor varieties tend to be offered in a new line.”

Mark Hostetler, attorney, Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP, concurs. “Lawyers and regulatory people used to be brought in at the very end of a project to review labels for FPLA compliance (e.g., type size, placement, etc.) and, perhaps, to review advertising claims, if they mentioned competitors. Pre-market review was often left to ‘Does it taste O.K.?’”

 “Now, I’m more often brought in at the beginning of projects. New products increasingly seem to be claims-driven, developed to fit a niche, or are in response to a new FDA/USDA regulation, rather than to help cover operational overhead or simply to offer a new flavor,” says Hostetler. Typical questions are: “Will the government allow us to say this?” or “Science has exposed this new concept, can we develop a product to fit that definition, and how can the claims we want to make for it fit into the definition?”

Marketers must be more sophisticated in their analysis of the market before developing a new product, and all this “pre-work” has added time to the process. It is no longer enough that a new food tastes good—it often must have another reason for being, such as for health, the environment or a social cause, Hostetler notes. Lawyers, too, must spend more time researching the “competent and reliable scientific evidence” standard necessary to substantiate claims prior to dissemination, if the desired claim does not fit within one already defined in the FDA health claims framework, he adds.

As with so many things in life, the greatest rewards in regards to business opportunities in new product development are often accompanied by the greatest amount of work.

Website Resources:

www.cherikoff.net — Information on a variety of Australian food ingredients
www.who.int/foodsafety/fs_management/en/probiotic_guidelines.pdf— The 2002 report, “Drafting Guidelines for the Evaluation of Probiotics in Food”
fst.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/12/6/489.pdf— A pdf of a complete study entitled, “Influence of Prebiotic Additions on the Quality of Gluten-free Bread and on the Content of Inulin and Fructooligosaccharides”
www.PreparedFoods.com— Type in “Energizing Ingredient Trends” in the search field to see the article covering results from the “2007 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods”

Specialized Protein

Although general protein fortification continues to be of interest to the food industry, the amino acid and peptide components that make up proteins are also of growing interest, both isolated or derived from proteins and formulated into products as ingredients, or as the result of protein digestion in the body. One example is a “casein phosphopeptides-amorphous calcium phosphate” (CPP-ACP) discovered by Professor Eric Reynolds of The University of Melbourne. The peptide, derived from milk, has been shown to reverse small caries through remineralization. Mintel’s GNPD shows Cadbury Adam’s Trident first introduced a branded CPP-ACP ingredient for a gum for children in 1999. Cadbury Schweppes also markets toothpastes with the ingredient globally. The “2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods” shows “oral health” to be a health interest for 4% of those surveyed. See http://jdr.iadrjournals.org/cgi/reprint/80/12/2066 for a downloadable pdf on a paper published in 2001 on CPP-ACP.