Prepared Foods Exclusive Survey: Food Manufacturers’ Attitudes and Insights on Functional Foods – Ingredient Appropriateness

Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, Chief Editor, Prepared Foods & NutraSolutions

From estimations of growth and market size to consumer interest and awareness, surveys and reports on the “functional foods market” abound. Often, the results are not in harmony. One is that there is no common agreement as to what the term “functional foods” means. A current definition commonly used is that functional foods are “foods and beverages that offer health benefits beyond their basic nutrition.”

However, in the “2006 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods,” report, when R&D, QC and marketers at food manufacturing companies were asked, “How would you define “functional foods? (Question noted that food includes beverages)” and four definitions were provided, the percentage of the 237 responses agreeing with the various definitions of functional foods were as follows.
* Foods marketed to provide a specific health benefit -- 63%.
* Foods that are nutritionally beneficial -- 56%.
* Foods with nutraceuticals ingredients (such as herbs and bioactive medicinals) --35%.
* Foods that have any nutritional fortifier -- 29%.

These responses were virtually unchanged from the 2005 Functional Foods survey, when the same question was asked.

While functional food surveys work to unearth crucial and often changing consumer opinions and knowledge, Prepared Foods’ annual functional foods surveys are unique, in part, because they poll the highly influential opinions of product developers that manufacture and market such foods.

For example, one question on the “2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods,” conducted by Clear Seas Research, investigates a rarely addressed issue on ingredients in functional foods; that is, how appropriate is their use? Specifically, the question asked was, “Which ingredients would you consider appropriate to have in your product(s) for which you are responsible?” With 13 types of health ingredients listed and multiple responses allowed, responses were as follows.
* Antioxidants -- 67%.
* Omega-3s -- 60%.
* Proteins -- 53%.
* Vitamin D -- 53%.
* Fruit-based ingredients -- 50%.
* Vitamin B6 -- 41%.
* Beta-carotene -- 40%.
* Vitamin K -- 37%.
* Prebiotics -- 28%.
* Probiotics -- 28%.
* Phytosterols -- 26%.
* Collagen -- 9%.
* Beta-alanine -- 8%.
Note: Total respondents to question = 182, Sig. 90%, CI: +/- 6.1%

Demographics on those surveyed show they represent a cross-section of the foods and nutritional products industry, from beverages to baked goods, dairy to meat products and most other common applications in between.

The reasons behind why any particular healthful ingredient would be used are many and varied. To name just some, they include regulations (from what information can be carried on a label to an ingredient’s status), formulation challenges in the form of an ingredient’s impact on taste, texture and appearance; ingredient cost and availability, the strength of science supporting health benefits, consumer attitudes and company culture.

For example, while beverages and health bars often have been on the cutting edge in regards to functional foods and the ingredients they use, the U.S. processed meats category is probably the most conservative. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS), which regulates processed meat products, has a long-standing history opposing the fortification of these products. Thus, while dietary fibers can be added for functionalities such as yield and texture enhancements in meat products, no health or nutrient content claims are permitted. Additionally, a company can declare an ingredient to be self-affirmed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for FDA foods and beverages, but this designation does not apply to USDA meat products. In contrast, formulated beverages fall under FDA regulations and rarely have “standards of identities,” where regulations dictate their composition. Milk would be a major beverage exception.

Antioxidants rank at the top in regards to being an appropriate ingredient to be incorporated into functional foods due, in great part, to the ubiquitous nature of the antioxidant property. By defining antioxidants as molecules that can slow or prevent oxidation, that is, a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent, thousands, if not millions, of compounds qualify. A few with higher profiles include cloves, cocoa powder, red wine and raw blueberries. One USDA database notes their antioxidant content as 314446; 80933; 5693 and 4848 µmol TE/100g, respectively ( Other examples include vitamins A and E, carnosine, glutathione, selenium, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, alpha and beta carotene. Although plant-based sources may first come to mind, all these are also found in milk and/or meat.

When it comes to using antioxidants as a basis for functional food health properties, important considerations include knowing what information regulations allow to be stated, the extent of consumer awareness and a product’s actual antioxidant content. Their mere presence can often be a given.

For further reading: - Article overview of survey results to the “2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Functional Foods.” - March 2009 article providing a general Update on Healthful Ingredients trends with a specific focus on antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, carotenoids and conjugated linoleic acid, among others. – Type in “Spices-Ginger” to see a recent review of ginger’s nutritional and sensory properties, including references.

From the October 12, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition