Welcome to Prepared Foods’ “Annual R&D Trends Report: Weight Management Formulation.” The report provides detailed information on current trends and growth opportunities for weight control and weight management ingredients and products. Based on a survey of PF readers, the “Weight Management Formulation” study evaluates current weight control and weight management ingredients, plus looks toward product trends.

Specifically, the research identified formulation benefits seen with ingredients in products positioned with weight management. It also offers industry professionals’ thoughts on the guidelines, regulations and other issues affecting the research, development, manufacturing and marketing of foods, beverages and supplements in the weight management/weight control category. The study also attempted to gauge which product development responsibilities are at the forefront of industry professionals’ minds.  To view the entire survey, go to www.preparedfoods.com/2012RDTrends.

It’s important to point out that, while the experts in food, nutrition and health throughout industry and academia have redoubled their efforts to turn around the now-international obesity crisis, an update of obesity statistics still gives cause for alarm. The update, conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) earlier this year, shows that nearly two thirds of Americans age 20 and over—almost 150 million—are overweight, with about half of that number statistically obese. As noted in last year’s survey, as an increasingly strained health system tries to cope with the crisis, the cost in healthcare alone is astounding.

Compiled data from The Centers for Disease Control, the AHA and other organizations peg current annual obesity-related healthcare costs at an equivalent of more than $500 for every man, woman and child in the U.S., around $160-175 billion. A Cornell University study, published early this year in the Journal of Health Economics and reported in the Insurance Journal, puts this figure at 21% of the U.S.’s total health costs.

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) “2012 Food & Health Survey,” “…more than half of Americans (55%) report that they are trying to lose weight,” a big jump from 2011’s 43%. While IFIC noted this is a “return to historical norms,” only one in five polled reported they are “not doing anything regarding their weight.”

In this regard, one respondent to the PF survey wrote, “I believe the average consumer remains uninformed, but the serious label readers are seeking foods that are nutritional, not just fluff injected with vitamins. I believe consumers are increasingly looking at the source of the nutrition and are beginning to analyze calories, fiber, protein, net carbohydrates and the source of the food; and preferring local, fresh and organic over processed items. They are also looking for sustainable packaging and a more holistic food process from the source of the food, its packaging and its carbon impact.”

The four fifths of consumers who are paying attention to their weight, however, are fumbling around in the dark somewhat. IFIC’s survey revealed that, “While the majority of Americans (71%) estimated their daily calorie needs, 64% of them estimated incorrectly, with nearly half (49%) underestimating.” Only 15% of IFIC survey respondents were able to “accurately estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight.”

IFIC also found that around four in 10 Americans picked “changing the types and amounts of food” as the top “contributor to successful weight management,” and more than half who are trying to lose weight opt for changing the types of foods and food components in an effort to lose or maintain weight. Moreover, when it comes to factors influencing purchase of foods and beverages among this group of responders, the numbers who include “healthfulness” has steadily climbed to two thirds, No. 3 behind the perennial top two of “taste” and “price.” This all bodes well for processors of better-for-you foods for weight control.

To present readers with information on the formulation benefits food, beverage and supplement processors have seen with ingredients in this category of products, PF turned to the best resources: its readers—the  processors themselves (see “Study Details and Demographics,” page 23).

Know the Ingredients

This year, almost two thirds—64%— of the survey of respondents were at least “somewhat familiar” with ingredients focusing on weight control and weight management. In this unprompted question, the focus was not specific ingredients by name, but how processors assess their own familiarity with the prodigious number of ingredients out there making weight control/management claims. Although only 6% of those asked felt “very familiar” with the category of ingredients, 20% felt “familiar,” and nearly twice that number (38%) felt they could claim being at least “somewhat” familiar with weight control/management ingredients.

The same number of processors, 64%, indicated ingredients for weight control and weight management are at least “somewhat important.” This included 30% finding them “somewhat important,” 25% “important” and 9% deeming them “very important.” However, more than eight in 10 (81%) also were at least “somewhat interested” in this category of ingredients.

The breakdown included 14% remarking they were “very interested” in ingredients in this category; twice as many more (29%) were “somewhat interested;” and 38% fell in the middle, at “interested” in ingredients designed for weight management functionality.

Knowing—and deciding how and when to use—nutrition-targeted ingredients are two different things. This year, 61% of respondents noted they were involved in the decision-making process, on at least some level, when it comes to buying ingredients for weight control/management. Almost one fifth of these “ingredient decision makers”—18%—said they were “somewhat involved,” and nearly that many, 15%, were “very involved” in the decision-making process. With 15% “not very involved” and another 24% “not at all involved,” that leaves 28% who classified themselves as “involved” in the decision-making process regarding development and use of ingredients for weight management.

Of note this year is a shift in the direction toward “natural,” when it comes to weight management ingredients. Well over half (56%) of the study participants noted it is “important” or “very important” for ingredients designed for weight management functionality to be natural. “Natural” is enough, for now, as only 22% felt “certified organic” is important or very important when it comes to these ingredients. (This is in keeping with a contraindicative, broadening acceptance of the term “natural” as having meaning when, in fact, it legally does not. That is, even after being informed that there is no legal definition of the term “natural,” Americans still trust it.)

Fiber Rules

When the survey turned to the specific ingredients for weight control/management, “dietary fiber” landed in the No. 1 spot for five of the six presented categories of weight control: “preventing obesity” (scoring 70%); “preventing/mitigating symptoms of diabetes” (48%); “losing weight” (66%); “maintaining a healthy weight” (65%); and “enhancing satiety” (also 65%). The sixth, “boosting energy,” did not see dietary fiber as a player.

A main natural source of dietary fiber—“whole grains and seeds”—appeared in the top three ingredients in the same categories: “preventing obesity” (43%); “preventing/mitigating symptoms of diabetes” (38%); “losing weight” (47%); “maintaining a healthy weight” (62%); and “enhancing satiety” (58%). This falls in line with the growing consumer awareness of the connection between fiber and health, and efforts to promote and increase consumption of whole grains and seeds.

Groups such as the Boston-based Whole Grains Council, creator of the Whole Grain Stamp for products containing these healthy ingredients, and the NPD Group report consumption of whole-grain foods increased 20% from 2005-2008. They also noted young adults (18-34 years of age) saw the biggest increase, at 38% in that time period.

Antioxidants Still Strong

“Antioxidants” appeared in the top five ingredients in five out of six categories presented in the survey: “preventing obesity” (41%); “preventing/mitigating symptoms of diabetes” (37%); “losing weight” (39%); “maintaining a healthy weight” (coming in third at 53%); and “boosting energy” (50% for second place). This class of nutraceutical compounds proved to be a big player, getting statistically significant points even for “enhancing satiety.”

It is true that the word “antioxidants” covers a lot of ground. It can include vitamins A and E, among others; hundreds of different fruits and vegetable extracts (especially the superfruits, such as pomegranate, berries and açai); and even the mineral selenium. According to IFIC, “The majority of Americans believe that fortified foods and foods with added benefits have at least some impact on overall health.”

The Mintel Group has noted a continued increase in the number of product launches which proclaim their antioxidant content and that the number comprises about 6% of the total for all new product launches. Mintel declares, “Antioxidants have traction among consumers and, given their close tie to health and longevity, are seen as a long-term return on health investment for the consumer, as well as an excellent investment for the processor.”

What Ingredients, Where

Asking survey respondents which ingredients they identify as assisting in preventing obesity, the top five were the aforementioned dietary fiber, gums, prebiotics, polysaccharides (cellulose, inulin, beta-glucans, polydextrose, lignins, pectin) at 70%, as noted, followed by 43% identifying whole grains and seeds; 42% artificial sweeteners; 41% antioxidants; and 39% green tea and tea extracts.

Of these, however, only dietary fiber had a statistically greater proportion of respondents select it. The measure of statistical significance was based on survey-taker familiarity with the ingredients listed. But, also showing significance statistically were proteins, spices/spice extracts, the B vitamins, sugar alcohols, CLA (20%), calcium (19%), resistant starch (15%), L-carnitine (10%) and MCTs (8%).

When asked which ingredients could assist in preventing or mitigating symptoms of diabetes, the top five were dietary fiber again, at 48%. Artificial sweeteners hit 47%; whole grains and seeds scored 38%; antioxidants 37%; and stevia confirmed its current performance on the trend track by landing in the top five, with 32% of responders pointing to its capacity to help with diabetes.

In this category, both the dietary fiber and the stevia responses were deemed statistically significant. Sugar alcohols and resistant starch registered with statistical significance, as did oligosaccharides and the rapidly rising monk fruit high-intensity natural sweetener.

Actual weight-loss ingredients, such as those likely to find themselves in products enjoying a more aggressive marketing approach as proactive health foods and beverages, registered some interesting answers to the question: “Which of the following ingredients do you feel assist in losing weight?” Still at the top—and the only in the top five to show significance in the percentage choosing it—were dietary fibers, gums, prebiotics, etc., pulling in 66% of respondents, followed immediately by whole grains and seeds at 47%, green tea and tea extracts at 46%, artificial sweeteners at 44% and antioxidants at 39%.

The stimulants, (coffee, tea, yerba maté, caffeine, theobromine, xanthine, etc.) didn’t even make the top 10, showing up at the No. 12 spot, with 27%, just behind non-soy proteins (28%). Sugar alcohols and calcium showed statistical significance in this category also, at 21 and 17%, respectively. CLAs (14%), resistant starch (13%) and oligosaccharides (10%) reached significant levels, as well.

For ingredients that assist in maintaining a healthy weight—not weight loss, but keeping the weight off—three of the top five had significant percentages of responses, and dietary fiber once again hit the No. 1 position, at 65%. Whole grains were right behind fiber, at 62%. Making up the rest of the top five positions were antioxidants at 53%, animal proteins (statistically significant at 51%) and dairy proteins at 48%. Calcium was also accepted as a weight maintenance ingredient with a statistically significant percentage point of 34%, and CLAs and sugar alcohols both saw 19%. Wrapping up this segment were oligosaccharides (15%), resistant starch (13%) and MCTs (8%). Although not on the list, coconut oil received a mention by one respondent. The awareness that this saturated plant oil has health benefits has been growing of late and appears to indicate a possible place on next year’s survey for tropical oils.

That Full Feeling

Satiety has been a huge trend, as processors have come to recognize that low calorie means little, if consumers double up on the amount they eat. After all, creating a 100-calorie portion is easy; keeping the consumer from scarfing five of them in a sitting is where the rubber meets the road.

A wealth of fiber and carbohydrate research of the past generation has not only put satiety on the map, it’s helped ingredient makers develop products based on resistant starch, inulin and dextrose polymers that provide more with less—more volume for less calories, since these ingredients only “cost” 1-2 calories per gram vs. the normal 4kcal/g of most carbohydrates. Protein and fats, too, have benefited from a wealth of research, with dairy proteins (typically, whey) and omega oils proving to keep the body on slow burn, so one can go longer between meals.

The satiety-enhancing ingredients plucked from the survey by readers featured dietary fiber, gums, etc., at No. 1, with a significant 65%. Whole grains and seeds, at No. 2, received 58%. The three types of proteins offered in the question—animal, dairy and soy/peas/other plant proteins—filled out the leading five with 57, 56 and 50%, respectively.

Resistant starch was the next statistically significant choice at 18%. (Flax and chia were actually higher, at 27%, but the number did not reach statistical significance.) Also hitting the statistical sweet spot were antioxidants (13%), MCTs (8%) and oligosaccharides (7%).

Finally, the survey asked which ingredients readers feel assist in boosting energy. Not surprisingly, stimulants hit the top of the list, with a significant 66%. However, antioxidants, also statistically significant with 50%, was chosen as No. 2—odd, since although a wealth of science across decades of research provides ample proof of multiple ways in which antioxidants benefit health, from heart health, eye health and brain health to preventing cancer, very little exists to tie antioxidants to any sort of energy-boosting effect.

The remaining three in the top five of the energy-boosting ingredients category were more in line with the known science: Green tea and tea extracts and B vitamins got 49% each, and ginseng had 46%. Guarana was No. 6 on the list, with 33%, yet it has seen an increase in use as an energy-enhancing ingredient for foods and beverages.

Ingredient Portfolios Expand

Processors are definitely doing their homework when it comes to micronutrients, macronutrients and nutraceuticals for weight and health. Asking which ingredients they researched in the past two years saw almost half of those listed—19 of 40—having come under the microscope. However, the figures also reflect only the 58% who said they researched any of the listed ingredients.

The path from bench to shelf can be complicated when it comes to nutraceutical ingredients for weight loss. While some “fringe” botanicals experience a sudden rush of popularity, based on seemingly random media hype wherein consumer demand drives product development, the steady indoctrination of an ingredient into the mainstream following research at both the university level and the product-development level resonates better for the long-term.

Ingredients showing big traction across the survey this year include: protein (dairy and meat/egg/poultry/seafood); stevia; flax; probiotics; omega-3 oils; sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, other polyols); green tea/tea extracts (i.e., EGCG); cinnamon; and chia.

Ingredients showing medium traction across the survey include: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA); calcium; ginger; chromium; resistant starch; Hoodia gordonii; guarana; L-carnitine; medium-chain triglycerides (MCT); and oligosaccharides (fructo/mannan-oligosaccharide). Asking readers about the “ingredients you have used in formulation in the past two (2) years” generated an interesting surprise: Ginger hit the top 10. In fact, it came in at No. 9, just above calcium! It must be stressed, however, that this was a general question meant to address merely the ingredients in processors’ pantries, not which ingredients they used specifically for a weight management or other healthy formulation.

Some respondents indicated ingredients that were not on the list, but which they are using in formulation. Two of these that bear mention, because they are on a trend track, are hemp and spirulina.

Whatever the ingredients used for weight loss and weight management, all those who took the survey agreed weight management foods and beverages “need to be backed up with evidence that they work,” and “efficacy and safety have to be well substantiated.” Especially, they noted that, while “one ingredient will not be a cure-all,” the ingredients that are used “need to be clinically proven” and “should be supported through peer-reviewed clinical studies.” This was a recurrent theme in the comments accompanying the survey.

As one reader put it, “Consumers tend to believe what they read on the Internet (particularly if it’s ‘emotional’) and fear names they cannot understand.” Another recognized how this drives the development of weight management products, noting, “Consumer pressure is on food manufacturers, not the government.”

Relevant to this conundrum, one respondent cautioned marketers of these products, writing: “Specialized ingredients for weight management psychologically relieve responsibility for maintaining moderate intake and an active lifestyle.” In fact, a number of manufacturers seemed to be less than at ease with the way the products they develop get marketed, joining consumers who have been turning away from products ballyhooed as panaceas and demanding “cleaner labels,” as well.

Part of the task of weight management through better food choices includes the overall category of healthful foods and drinks as a general demand. In their search for foods and beverages to help with their physical health, consumers seek the extra assurance that comes from a certification. One respondent summed up corporate responsibility nicely, writing that healthy food and beverage manufacturers “need to get up to speed as far as providing nutritional products in a more holistic manner.”

The writer urged processors to “think waste stream, think carbon impact, think educating the consumer—it is a different time; consumers are hungering for quality and nutrition, and they have lost the tools of critical thinking and discernment; purity and simplicity are the new consumer consciousness.”

Understandably, when readers were asked to rank “important functionality factors” of certification, kosher/halal certification landed No. 3 in the “very important” column, just below “made in USA/Canada,” at No. 2 and “natural” in the No. 1 spot. The steady, double-digit growth of the kosher/halal market can’t be ignored. Annual sales of items with these certifications are now around $20 billion.

Only one fifth or so of purchasers who seek out these certifications do so for religious purposes. Most do so because this extra level of scrutiny is believed to signal the quality, safety and healthfulness of a product. “Certified organic”—a category trend that, like kosher, has experienced double-digit growth across most of the past two decades—and “vegetarian” rounded out the five functionality factors ranked.

Study Details and Demographics

Of the 144 respondents to this year’s survey, 58% described themselves as working in the research and development area. Another 20% self-classified as general management and administration. Sales managers and representatives made up another 6% of respondents, and marketing and plant ops made up 4% each. Purchasing directors/supervisors, and purchasing agents and buyers were another 3% of the group, with the remaining 5% divided among positions involving finance, education- or government-affiliation, machinery reps, regulatory specialists and shipping supervisors.

Most respondents work for operations that make baked goods (29%), “natural products” (28%) and beverages (26%). Nutritional products makers totaled 22% of the survey takers. Makers of products for the foodservice industry were covered by 21%, as were makers of sauces, condiments, dressings, dips and spices.

From 17-21% manufacture spices, desserts, dairy products, organic products, snacks and health bars, confectionery, meals/entrees, processed fruit and vegetable products, and side dishes. Ten to 13% are makers of appetizers, processed meat/poultry/seafood products, breakfast cereals and dietary supplements, and pet food manufacturers.

The division across company size was surprisingly even. Nearly three in 10 (29%) respondents work for small companies of 49 employees or fewer. Just under one fifth (18%) work for companies of 50-99 employees. Another fifth (21%) work for companies of 100-249 employees. While only 12% of respondents work for medium-sized companies of 250-499 employees, a fifth again (20%) work for large corporations exceeding 500 employees.

All in all, PF received 144 responses from volunteers for this web-based survey from the ranks of active, qualified subscribers of the magazine. They were approached via valid email address, in a random sampling. The survey was open from August 1-15, 2012. Results were tabulated using SPSS, a statistical software package. Other than minor editing for readability, the quoted responses presented here are as entered by the respondents. pf

The publisher, editors and staff of Prepared Foods, and BNP Media, wish to thank all who participated and congratulate the two winners (chosen at random from the pool of respondents) of the $200 American Express gift checks.