Foods and drinks with added health benefits are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, product concepts emphasizing specific health aspects offer added value.
With that, the functional foods market is characterized by ever more stringent quality requirements and a demand for products directed towards individual target groups. If they are to position themselves successfully, fortified foods and beverages must be designed specifically for the different age groups among the consumers and particular circumstances.
“The market demands much greater differentiation now than it did in the past,” says Jan Heuer, a business unit head at SternVitamin GmbH & Co. “Gone are the days when a single multivitamin tablet satisfied all consumers. We now have to offer functional foods with a specific health benefit to meet individual consumer needs. Examples include yogurt with ‘beauty’ vitamins for skin and power drinks with selected minerals to boost mental performance.”
In addition to vitamins, minerals and trace elements, plant extracts are playing an increasingly important role. Today’s consumers are much better informed about nutrients and plant extracts. A knowledge of indications, positive effects and health benefits of the substances is no longer confined to experts. To enable manufacturers to exploit the positive image of the active substances, Ahrenberg (Hamburg)-based SternVitamin has years of experience developing premixes for specific target groups. The premixes contain health-promoting ingredients as well as the standard micronutrients.
“Vitamins and minerals will always be of central importance, but in conjunction with other substances, such as amino acids, plant extracts and other functional ingredients,” explains Sabine Hildebrandt, MD, head of research and development at SternVitamin. “For example, a near-water drink to boost performance can contain taurine or glucuronolactone as a unique selling proposition, but the product only offers maximum benefit in combination with vital substances such as calcium or vitamin C.”
Of course, health claims can be used as an effective marketing tool. They make it possible to advertise health-supporting effects directly on the pack, in brochures or on a home page.
“The permissible health claims for vitamins, minerals and trace elements cover a wide range of applications, from maintaining healthy bones, through mental and physical performance, to support for the cardiovascular system,” Hildebrandt says. “If you take a close look at the list you will find something suitable for nearly every region and function of the body. That gives rise to enormous marketing potential – especially if you supplement the micronutrients with health-supporting plant extracts and the like.”
Current examples from SternVitamin’s product range include micronutrient premixes for lifestyle drinks. One example is the “Mind-Calming” premix. Besides selected vitamins, it contains plant extracts from elder and balm, both of which have been shown in studies to help relieve stress and promote mental and emotional wellbeing. In conjunction with vitamin C and B vitamins, the premix forms the basis for lifestyle drinks possessing a relaxing effect. Another example, the “Brainpower” premix, aids concentration and memory with a balanced combination of vitamins, minerals and green tea extracts.
The so-called “50 plus” concepts also are an important trend, according to Hildebrandt. “Possibilities [for this group] might include a soy shake fortified with vital substances specifically for women in the second half of life,” she explains. Hildebrandt also posits a “bone-protecting loaf” made with vitamin K2, calcium and magnesium, or a “power cocktail” with Q10 and selenium for strengthening the body’s defenses.
“There also is a well-established nursing drink with iron and zinc offered especially for young mothers,” she adds.
According to the experts, products lending themselves to fortification include staple foods like bread and edible fats, cereals and also soft drinks and dairy products. Sweets, biscuits and dairy products are a good possibility for children in particular. A crucial factor in all communication with consumers is that the vital substances must offer a demonstrable health benefit. “Consumers want reliable studies providing clear evidence of efficacy,” Hildebrandt explains.
Besides concepts for specific target groups, the market for ingredients and food supplements shows another important trend.
“We’re observing much stricter requirements in respect to hygiene and product safety,” says Heuer. “The safety of foods is now one of the most important quality attributes in marketing. More food manufacturers are imposing extremely high quality standards for the raw materials and processing methods. Only companies meeting these requirements—and constantly adjusting production methods—will be able to withstand the increasing pressure of competition.”
—SternVitamin GmbH & Co., www.sternvitamin.de