Architects say “form follows function.” When it comes to building a case for functional foods, researchers say consumer interest is forming a sizeable market.
A Global Industry Analysts report estimates the value of the world’s functional foods and beverages market will reach $130 billion by 2015. Fueling the growth will be product innovation and increasingly health-conscious consumers with higher levels of disposable income.
Functional foods, as the report defines, “generally contain some ingredient(s) boasting health-optimizing properties, such as orange juice fortified with calcium for stronger bones, butter/margarine containing omega-3 oils to reduce cholesterol, and fermented foods containing live cultures for probiotic benefits.”
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) explains functional foods are enhanced or enriched to offer health benefits as part of a healthy balanced diet; they can be used as part of a treatment of an existing medical condition but are also used as a preventative measure against disease and generally demonstrate physiological benefits for consumers.
Estimates indicate the global demand for nutraceutical ingredients rose more than 6% year-on-year, to put the segment value at approximately $22 billion, accounting for nearly 10% of the world’s overall nutritional product market, which has a total value of more than $235 billion. Sales of probiotics, as a whole, are expected to reach nearly $29 billion by 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts, which also predicts the global carotenoid market will exhibit 2.5% yearly growth through 2018, to reach $1.2 billion. Beta-carotene accounts for more than 20% of the carotenoid market and is expected to hit $335 million by 2018, growing more than 3% a year. Lutein is expected to grow 3.5% a year and reach almost $210 million over that same time frame.
And Our Survey Says…
Nearly eight in 10 Americans (79%) say they are at least somewhat knowledgeable about nutrition, but research last fall from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) shows several wide gaps between their perception of the adequacy of their diets and reality.
The 2013 International Food Information Council Functional Foods Consumer Survey reveals that despite consumers’ reported knowledge about nutrition, the majority (67%) believe they fall short of meeting “all or nearly all” of their nutrient needs. IFIC likewise defines “functional foods” as foods that have benefits beyond basic nutrition -- such as blueberries, yogurt, and fortified milk, bread or cereal.
The survey also shows significant disconnects between people’s beliefs about whether they are getting sufficient amounts of many specific nutrients and the reality of their diets, as judged by the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommended by experts.
A comparison between the survey’s findings about perceptions of diet adequacy (by specific nutrient) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data shows wide chasms between how many believe their intakes are adequate versus the actual DRIs. For nutrients such as vitamin D (68% perception vs. 32% consumption), potassium (61% vs. less than 3%), and fiber (67% vs. 5%), the discrepancy between perception and reality is quite stark. The high percentage of consumers who are meeting their needs for B vitamins (60% perception vs. 90% consumption) is a testament to the value of functional foods, especially fortified foods, as providing a “functional fix.”
However, there are still gaps in knowledge and consumption of a variety of other functional components such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, flavonoids, and zeaxanthin. One third, or less, of the population say they are not consuming enough of these components to meet their needs or to get a health benefit.
It’s clear that Americans have an interest in functional foods. Similar to survey findings from 2009 and 2011, 90% of consumers in 2013 agree that certain foods have health benefits beyond basic nutrition (87% in 2011, and 89% in 2009).
“While there is some disparity between perceived nutrient adequacy and actual nutrient intake, it is notable that consumers recognize the benefits their food can offer,” says Sarah Romotsky, RD, associate director of health and wellness at the IFIC Foundation. “Indeed, health-promoting foods and food components play an important role in meeting nutrient needs and improving overall health.”
Consumer interest in learning more about functional foods remains high. Almost nine in 10 Americans (86%) are interested in learning more about foods that have health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Similar to 2011, almost half of all consumers (45%) are “very interested.”
Previous iterations of the survey revealed that even though consumers have a positive perception of functional foods, reported consumption of various functional components for health benefits remained stagnant.
This year’s study further explored perceived barriers to functional foods. Respondents were offered a list of 16 potential reasons for not consuming more of these foods; on average, they selected 10 of those barriers, indicating that they perceive a variety of challenges. Specifically, price is the most common barrier, with more than half identifying it as a major reason. Other perceived barriers include skepticism of manufacturers’ motives for adding health components to products, preference for the purity of basic foods, and taste.
Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Washington, D.C., conducted the 2013 Functional Foods Consumer Survey between July 9 and July 22, 2013, and sampled 1,005 between ages 18 to 80.
Flying the Flax
Flaxseed has been a particularly popular functional addition to ingredient legends in recent years. Post Foods LLC incorporated flaxseed and active cultures into its recent launch of Great Grains Digestive Blend cereal.
Aiming to “help Americans maintain healthy digestive systems,” the cereal features whole grains and natural fiber, as well as (unspecified) active cultures, oat clusters, whole-grain barley, multi-grain flakes and real berry juice. Each cup promises to be an excellent source of fiber (7g) and a good source of iron.
Flaxseed was also a key ingredient (indeed, the first ingredient on the panel) of Flax4Life’s Chocolate Brownies. Each Chocolate Brownie Mini Muffin boasts 720mg of omega-3, 2g of fiber and 2g of protein per serving.
While there is plenty of room for functional ingredients to grow in the marketplace and, indeed, forecasts indicate strong potential for growth for the next half-decade, a recent analysis suggests a limited number of compounds actually stand out from the crowd. Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University analyzed 446 compounds for their ability to boost the innate immune system in humans.
The results identified only two compounds that stood out from the crowd: the resveratrol found in red grapes and pterostilbene found in blueberries. Both worked in synergy with vitamin D and, according to the researchers, “had a significant impact in raising the expression of the human cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP gene) that is involved in immune function.” Researchers did note the findings were in lab cell cultures and were not conclusive proof that similar results would stem from dietary consumption. The research was published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
Despite the interest in such compounds as resveratrol and pterostilbene, their bioavailability remains a question, the researchers said. Some applications that may evolve could be with topical use to improve barrier defense in wounds or infections, they said.
Prepared Foods' sister publication covering the nutraceuticals industry, NutraSolutions, now features a Nutraceutical Product of the Week, found every week at www.NutraSolutions.com.