From antioxidant-touting “superfruits” to trendy botanicals, mainstream food companies and creative chefs alike adopt trends rising from the health food and dietary supplement industries. With consumer interest in health showing few signs of slacking, hunting new product opportunities within the emerging health ingredient sector is time well spent.
An article titled “In a New Era of Quality, 8 Trends for 2008,” published in the e-newsletter HartBeat (The Hartman Group), features three trends: “Ingredients to Treat Digestion, Sustained Energy and Immunity;” “Consumers Finding Progressive New Ways to Prevent and Control Daily Health Issues [such as for weight management, blood sugar regulation and digestive health];” and “Supplementing Life: A Focus on Healthy Aging, Balanced Energy, Inflammation.” (See www.hartman-group.com/hartbeat/2007-12-19.)
Thoughtful analysis of such trends can provide clues as to why an ingredient gains consumer appeal. The HartBeat article notes that consumer concern about obtaining adequate fiber, protein and balanced essential fatty acids, as well as achieving satiety and reducing inflammation, has led to a growing interest in hemp. Also, concern over digestive health means: “The most active wellness consumers…reach for foods loaded with probiotics, digestive enzymes and lots of fiber to assist and promote digestion.”
Indeed, consumers’ intentions to manage their own health mean good business for many. Nutrition Business Journal’s “2007 Supplement Report” notes the U.S. supplement industry sports $22.5 billion in sales, with a 5% growth rate. The category of “natural & organic foods” has a 13% growth rate, and “function foods” sales are posted at $31.4 billion. TSG, a U.S.-based advisory group, estimates the global market for the “functional food and beverage” area will grow from $59.6 billion in 2004 to $218.5 billion in 2010. (See www.newswiretoday.com/news/28120.)
As encouraging as these “top-line” statistics are, some of the most intriguing ideas and greatest opportunities emerge from niche concepts. Sloan Trends Inc., which quantifies and tracks interest in various subjects through its TrendSense™ trend tracking service, offers “inflammation” as one such example.
“Media attention to inflammation as a concept has skyrocketed,” says Liz Sloan, principal, Sloan Trends Inc. (see sidebar “Opportunities Aflame”). Although it could be considered “mature,” having crossed into what Sloan Trends identifies as the “Commercialization Phase” over 10 years ago, it continues to be supported by enormous “Medical Counts,” which refers to the volume of coverage in medical and nutritional media. This means that a large number of new research findings and health links are forming a solid body of evidence and creating a foundation for possible future claims and growth.
Additionally, the number of times the inflammation concept has been mentioned within consumer media has almost doubled each year since 2005. Yet, “It is currently virtually untapped in the marketplace,” suggests Sloan. “This market should continue to grow for some time to come. Marketers should position quickly to address this fast-emerging segment,” she adds.
For some, the situation has resulted in frustration. “The health contributions of long-chain omega-3s, such as from marine sources, have focused on their well-established cardiovascular benefits,” says Linda Pizzey, CEO of a flax seed supplier. “However, although there is much research behind the benefits of alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) from plant sources like flax seed, in regards to their impact on inflammation, it is being overlooked by the marketplace. Anti-inflammatory effects have wide-ranging benefits, from ‘anti-aging’ to even cardiovascular.”
Indeed, a search of Mintel International’s Global New Product Database (GNPD) shows only a handful of new product launches mentioning inflammation, although 2007 saw a definite increase in North America over previous years. The GNPD shows that earlier products touting this benefit were primarily limited to the dietary supplement category. Now, food companies are joining in. Examples include Royal Canin’s Canine Health Nutrition Mini Shih Tzu 24 Formula, introduced in the spring of 2007; Tahiti Trader’s Organic Goji Max Goji Juice, introduced last summer; and several tea suppliers.
Barry Sears, M.D., president, Zone Labs, has long championed “anti-inflammatory” foods through his Zone Diet. (To see a video of his presentation, “Can Processed Foods Save America from Itself?” at the Prepared Foods 2005 New Products Conference, type in “Barry Sears video” (minus the quotation marks) at www.PreparedFoods.com.) Towards that goal, Mintel’s GNPD reported the January 2008 launch of Zone Lab’s Dr. Sears Zone Toasted Sesame Oil that has been “specially developed to support life-long wellness through the control of silent inflammation.”
Omega-3s remain in the spotlight and have, perhaps, received one of the greatest tributes to obtaining a high-profile status: they have caught the attention of the much-harried and over-stretched FDA. At the end of 2007, the FDA made proposals, published in the Federal Register, to prohibit certain nutrient content claims for DHA, EPA and ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
For DHA and EPA, the FDA is proposing that no specific nutrient content claims be allowed at this time. One possible option may thus be to state the factual amount of these fatty acids on the label such as ‘contains XXmg DHA (and/or EPA) omega-3 per serving. For ALA, the FDA is proposing that its daily value be set at 1.6g per day. If so, a label claiming "high source of ALA" would need at a minimum 320mg/ALA per serving and a claim of "a good source of ALA" would require at least 160mg ALA/serving.
The reasons are complex but have much to do with the fact that, although the FDA recognizes that omega-3s in the diet are essential and deficient, they are not sure if the scientific data is conclusive enough to determine what represents an ideal intake of EPA and DHA omega-3s. “Until these issues are resolved, bakers should probably avoid making ‘excellent’ or ‘good source’ claims if using DHA and/or EPA,” advises Daniel Best, president, Best Vantage Inc. (See www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/cf0539.pdf .)
Overall, the flood of new foods and dietary supplements mentioning omega-3s (or fish oil, ALA or DHA) in the North American market showed signs of slowing in 2007. Mintel’s GNPD notes 446 introductions, up slightly from 452 launches in 2006. This is from a meteoric rise of only 53 products launched in 2002.
However, consumer awareness, advances in food technology (such as encapsulation that increases omega-3 ease of use) and continued positive research means these ingredients will continue to drive many new product introductions. For example, while research supports the ability of certain omega-3s to aid cognitive function and assist with cardiovascular disease, cancer benefits have been more controversial. Even here, a recent study (Evropi Theodoratou, E, et al. 2007. Am J Epidemiol, 166:181-195) suggests in--creased intake of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources may offer protection against colorectal cancer.
Suppliers also will continue to differentiate their ingredient by identifying differing health benefits based on omega fatty acid molecular structures.
One supplier has launched an omega-3 concentrate containing EPA and DHA, along with “underrated” DPA (according to the supplier). DPA’s cardiovascular benefits differ from EPA and DHA omegas in their mechanism of action.
Since January 2006, Mintel’s GNPD noted a small number of new products mentioning DPA. Most were dietary supplements. Exceptions include reduced-fat milk with fish oil from Albert Heijn (launched in August 2007 in the Netherlands) and a fish oil-fortified fruit juice under the Smartfish Smartweek brand from Pharmalogica (introduced in Norway in October 2007). The GNPD notes that it won the TASTE 07 Innovation Prize at the Anuga International Food and Drink Exhibition. It is “flavoured with Apple, Pomegranate and Aronia to complement the Salmon.” The only recent U.S. launch of a product mentioning DPA was soft gel capsules by Menscience Androceuticals. Its literature states the product “provides a maximum-strength (1,500mg) Omega-3 concentration with an optimal ration of EPA, DHA and DPA.”
A broad range of applications use plant sources for their omega-3 content. Some 2008 launches in North America captured on the GNPD include Quaker Take Heart Instant Oatmeal, just reformulated to specifically incorporate ALA omegas from flax seed; Omega-3 Fortified Cranberries from Sweet Energy, which sprays the dried cranberries with omega-3 cranberry seed oil; and Nutrisoya Foods’ Natur-a Original Organic Soymilk, with whole soybeans and sunflower oil providing omega-3 fatty acids.
While omega-3 fatty acids are defined by their specific molecular structures, another ingredient category escalating in popularity has no such limitations. A wide range of ingredients can promote their antioxidant attributes.
Antioxidants, Superfruits and Carotenoids
Indeed, a new report, “Ten Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2008,” authored by Julian Mellentin for U.K.-based New Nutrition Business, reports that “antioxidants are becoming the biggest “wellness” ingredient, providing a platform for multiple benefits, ranging from beauty to heart health and mood.” (Visit www.new-nutrition.com/10kt08.asp.)
In the recent “HealthFocus USA Trend Survey,” antioxidants were found to be the likeliest nutrient U.S. shoppers looked for in the supplements and fortified products they buy and use, along with omega-3s and calcium.
“Antioxidant” is a chemical property possessed by widely unrelated ingredients such as T-butyl Hydroquinone (TBHQ), certain phytochemicals (including many carotenoids,) vitamin C and E, enzymes like superoxide dismutase, and foods such as tea, wine, cocoa, vegetables, grains and fruits--including the so-called “superfruits.” A challenge for food and nutritional product marketers is determining which possess the greatest consumer recognition and would also be a “logical fit” in a specific application.
When consumers who participated in the HealthFocus survey were asked in what types of foods they looked for antioxidants, broccoli and blueberries both garnered 73% of responses, followed by green tea at 69%. (See chart “Consumers Weigh in on Antioxidant Sources.”)
“From what we see, phytochemicals are just about to mainstream, or some of them finally did in 2007,” says Sloan. “Flavonoids and polyphenols have taken over the lead from lycopene and lutein. Lycopene suffered from a highly publicized study that failed to support its role in prostate cancer, as well as the tomato industry’s discontinuance of its PR campaign,” she adds.
Such downturns are far from permanent, of course. A TrendSense Predictive Model for beta-carotene provides an example. This antioxidant reached a high point in Consumer Mentions in 1998-99 and crossed into TrendSense’s Commer-cialization Phase, but was subsequently felled by a broadly misinterpreted study on cancer rates among Finnish smokers. A sharp upswing in 2007 consumer media attention once again indicates a renewed mass-market interest, offering fresh opportunities for new product development, as well as the repositioning and redirection of existing products.
Prebiotics and Dietary Fiber
Mellentin’s “Ten Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2008” report opines that digestive health is the number one trend in functional foods, a wellness issue, and offers the biggest opportunities for expansion. “This is true in both the European and U.S. market, although the potential growth is greater for the U.S., since the market is more mature in Europe,” says Mellentin.
Often, ingredients or health conditions that sit in a “number one” spot do so because they encompass a broad category of concepts. Such is the case with digestive health. Just the tip of the iceberg of products for digestive health include those that are for laxation effects; probiotics, along with their supporting prebiotics; and foods “free from” the lactose sugar or gluten protein.
Mintel International’s GNPD flagged 37 new products claiming “Added Dietary Fiber” in 2007 in North America in the dairy category, followed by 35 in breakfast cereal and 24 each in the beverage and bakery categories. (See chart “New Products with Added Fiber.”) The numbers may seem low and, in fact, underemphasize interest in dietary fiber among both consumers and manufacturers.
For one, “added fiber” products are not the same as products promoted for their fiber content. Vegetables, fruits, grains and legume-based foods, for example, are naturally high-fiber. Lowes Foods’ Pork and Beans, Valley Fig Growers of California’s Orchard Choice Blue Ribbon figs and ConAgra Foods’ Luck's brand Light Red Kidney Beans, all introduced in 2007, note their high fiber content.
Secondly, as mentioned in a 2007 Prepared Foods’ New Product Annual article entitled “Fiber, Importance Up, Claims Down,” “whole grain” claims may supplant “added fiber” for some product marketplace positioning, even though the products are indeed fortified with fiber. (To review the article, type in “The case for consuming a diet high in fiber” at www. PreparedFoods.com.)
Dietary fiber offers a number of health benefits. One of the more niche uses, particularly in the dietary supplement industry, is as a key component in detoxification and/or “cleansing” products. (See sidebar “Going Global: Detoxification.”) For not dissimilar reasons, they are also commonly incorporated into mainstream foods and beverages, although a less medicinal positioning is used, as companies must rely on consumers understanding that increased fiber consumption relates to improved laxation.
While dietary fibers from resistant starch to oat bran work to carve out their place in R&D formulators’ toolboxes through their unique functional and nutritional properties, one fiber sub-category, prebiotics, may be finally coming into its own.
“I, for one, think that prebiotics have a very bright future,” says Sloan. “They are considered to be fiber by consumers and naturally provide health benefits, such as improved immunity, but are an option to consuming live organisms to populate the gut flora.”
The TrendSense predictive model shows that the prebiotics concept was nearing the Popularization Phase in 2007, meaning health-oriented consumers would be receptive to it. The next stage, the Commercialization Phase, in which the timing is right for the mass market, may be reached within the next few years, notes Sloan.
Data from Mintel’s GNPD also supports the growing interest by U.S. and Canadian food (excluding pet food) and dietary supplement companies in promoting prebiotic-containing products to consumers. In the seven years from 1999-2005, some 42 new products referencing the word “prebiotic(s)” were introduced to the market. This increased to 23 in just one year, 2006, and the number jumped again in 2007, when 54 products were launched.
Recent introductions range from Now Foods’ banana chips (with the saba and cardava bananas themselves providing the prebiotic component) to Health Direct’s Ready Fiber drink supplement, which carefully pronounces it contains “a proprietary blend of enzymatically hydrolyzed digestion-resistant maltodextrin and pure concentrated short-chain fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)” on the ingredient legend. Even normally conservative behemoth corporations are dipping their toes into the prebiotic pool. At the 2007 FMI expo, Kraft Foods introduced Breakstone’s LiveActive cottage cheese for digestive health that touted its prebiotic content on the front label. Heinz also introduced Organic Whole Grain Rice Cereal for Beginners with prebiotics (oligofructose and inulin), as did Nestle Nido Crecimiento (Milk Powder) 1+.
For those who may yet be unfamiliar with prebiotics, Wikipedia offers the simplified definition: “food substances intended to promote the growth of certain bacteria in the intestines.” (For more detailed information, see www.PreparedFoods.com and type in article names, such as “The Biotics,” “Dairy’s Probiotic Promise” and “Matter of Support.”)
Probiotics and Promotional Importance
Integral to the concept of prebiotics is probiotics, the “good bacteria” they nourish. Information Research Inc. (IRI) offers information on the industry’s new product activity in this area, particularly the importance that positioning and promotions can play. Dannon’s probiotic-containing Activia, promoted for digestive health, is a prime example.
“Dannon Activia is one of the biggest new product success stories of 2006,” said Valerie Skala Walker, vice president, Consumer & Shopper Insights, IRI, during her presentation, “Positioning Healthful Products for Success,” given at Prepared Foods’ 2007 New Products Conference. When first launched, the brand faced two big challenges. “American consumers have a high level of skepticism about medical claims made by foods and diets. And, this particular medical claim, that eating Activia with probiotic Bifidus regularis daily for two weeks would improve your intestinal transit, was new to the American market,” said Walker. “Secondly, it is very difficult to get anyone to start a new habit and stick to it for 14 straight days.”
Dannon overcame the challenges by creating an integrated marketing effort with easy-to-understand basic messages, plus a link to their scientific study for those interested. They presented the “Activia Two-Week Challenge,” offering a money-back guarantee if an improvement was not seen after eating one container per day for two weeks. Images and wording used online and in print were quite subtle, she notes. The end result was that one-year sales totaled $128 million and rose to $190 million for the latest 52 weeks ending July 15, 2007. Activia is the fifth-ranking brand in the yogurt category, with a 4.9% share, and has provided Dannon with a year-over-year volume sales increase of over 7%.
Such an effort, with the resulting sales success, did not come without cost, however. (See chart “Prominence for a Price.”) The top new product performers in sales, as identified by IRI’s Pacesetter list, were supported by heavy dollar spending--and Dannon’s Activia was as much or more than most. To date, IRI’s InfoScan data shows General Mills and Dannon have about one-third of the U.S. yogurt market, with a variety of smaller brands holding the remaining third, says Walker.
Internationally, Dannon remains the leading brand in the probiotic category. “It has a successful business model that has been applied globally,” says Mellentin. The yogurt category provides a stepping-stone into other market segments such as digestion, immunity and other related health concepts. “Dannon blends science and marketing skills in a way that very few companies have been able to do.” Words to live by for any company competing in the functional foods and dietary supplement marketplace. NS
The TrendSense model tracks three phases of an emerging ingredient, market or issue. In the Emerging Phase, the concept has just showed up on the radar screen. In the second, Popularization Phase, scientific evidence reaches a critical mass, resulting in the concept being picked up by knowledgeable consumer niches. The Popularization Phases usually provides roughly a two-year advanced warning as to when the concept will reach the mass market, which is the third, or Commercialization Phase. Here, the product, ingredient or concept is ready for the mainstream market, and consumers become the primary driving force. The “Inflammation Medical Mentions” chart indicates that interest by and support of the medical and healthcare community for the concept is very strong. The “Inflammation, a Consumer Concept” chart indicates the level of “marketplace noise.” The Inflammation Concept has long passed both the Popularization and Commercialization Phases, though new product introductions based on the interest are few.
While some successful new U.S. product concepts are indeed unearthed abroad, the uniqueness of the American (and indeed Canadian) experience means nothing is a “sure bet.”
Mintel International’s “On-trade Soft Drinks-UK September 2007 Report,” notes consumers aged 20-30 are consuming fortified health beverages and organic food to offset (excessive) alcohol intake.
"This trend is also in the U.S., although not as pronounced,” says Lynn Dornblaser, director, Custom Solutions Group, Mintel International. "It may partly explain the introduction of health- or energy-enhanced alcoholic beverages that are looking to provide positive benefits."
The global botanical industry has long supported the use of herbs such as milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and Schisandra chinensis to assist with detoxification, or the removal of chemicals that may cause tissue injury. Only a few supplements and teas claiming detoxification properties were launched in North American since January 2007, according to Mintel’s GNPD. They generally contain botanicals with reputations for “detox” and/or dietary fiber. One example is Nature's Way’s Thisilyn Cleanse in the Herbal Digestive Sweep variety, introduced in the fall of 2007. It is a “15-day complete clinical strength Internal Purification Program made with milk thistle,” among a number of other herbs, as well as some 4% of the Daily Value in dietary fiber. The second phase of the program involves the twice daily consumption of 8oz of water along with three capsules, each providing 1g dietary fiber from psyllium husk, oat bran, guar gum, high lignan flaxseed fiber, grapefruit pectin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).
A wider range of detox products is found in Europe. Examples include New Nordic Oy’s Daily Detox, introduced in Poland, Finland and Sweden last year. Its fruit juice base is enhanced with dandelion, damiana, ginger, Schisandra chinensis and galanga root extract. One multi-national, Kellogg's, repackaged its All-Bran Flakes cereal in mid-2007 in the Netherlands to promote a “10-day detox plan to spring-clean the body after a slothful winter,” according to the GNPD.
Commenting on the detox-dietary fiber-diet link, Liz Sloan, Sloan Trends, says that the U.S. detox category is fueled by men in the 18-24 age range, and even high school boys trying to stay slim. Europe is a particularly strong market for these products, and detoxification ranks sixth in the U.K. as a weight-loss strategy.
Time will tell if these products gain further traction in North America.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MINTEL GNPD