Welcome to Prepared Foods’ 12th annual NutraSolutions survey of functional ingredients for foods, beverages and supplements. Manufacturers told BNP Media’s Market Research Division about the ingredients and products they see trending—plus what they’ll be looking toward as they develop the next generation of healthful products for a rapidly growing, yet highly individualized, consumer market.

Obesity and obesity-related conditions (such as diabetes) are at the forefront of foods and other products that target health. This is similar to previous years’ survey results.  


So, too, are those products designed to serve the health needs of an aging population.


This includes foods, beverages and supplements marketed for eye health (lutein, zeaxanthine and beta-carotene, for example); cognitive function (i.e., with omega-3 fatty acids, gingko, phosphatidyl serine, Bacopa monnieri); energy (everything from alkaloids to green tea to specialty carbohydrates like ribose); joint health (vitamin D, vitamin K2, minerals, functional lipids, vitamin C, Boswellia serrate, glucosamine-chondroitin complex); and especially heart health (with heavy emphasis on antioxidants and omega fatty acids).


Another line of ingredients leans more toward individualized nutrition needs. Thus, ingredients that are further out on the fringe are edging into the health products mix. This includes ingredients such as choline, creatine, arginine, picolinate, mushroom extracts (for both mycoceuticals and vitamin D) and curcumin.

Before digging deeper into the ingredients themselves, it must be pointed out that the average consumer is no longer average. In addition to having at his or her fingertips a wealth of nutrition information (albeit generously mixed in with misinformation) via the Internet, today’s global consumer benefits from cultural knowledge about healthful ingredients in food. Traditions of ancient food-as-medicine from the East—the subcontinent of India, China and Japan—merge with familiar knowledge of beneficial ingredients from the Amazon and other South and Central American sources.


But, with thousands of nutraceutical ingredients vying for attention in the marketplace, it can be a challenge to spot emerging stars. With the data from this year’s report, plus generous help from Innova Market Insights and other sources, PF profiles some of what appear to be the ingredients with the strongest positions in the marketplace, plus some emerging ingredients and others worth watching.


Survey Snapshot

So, what’s the processor insight into the juggernaut that is functional foods? This year’s survey showed strong interest by processors to develop or market foods, beverages or supplements with some functional health aspect.

Of qualified respondents, 65% said they’re doing so currently and another 15% said they’ll make such a move in the next six months. The remaining have functional items in the pipeline for release by 2017.


Within this group, 27% each said they specialize in making and/or marketing functional dairy beverages or nutritional supplements that include nutraceuticals, phytochemicals, herbals or botanicals. Then, 17% of the respondents in this category are involved in making functional non-dairy beverages (this includes “energy shots”), with 12% making and/or marketing dietary supplements.

This year, the survey broke out categories of health factors that processors deem of primary interest to consumers.


Five levels of importance were assessed. There were one dozen choices, and top scores were determined by combining those factors processors classed as “extremely important” with those designated as “very important.” (The full set of choices included: “not at all important;” “not very important;” “somewhat important;” “very important;” and “extremely important.”)

In asking survey respondents how important specific health issues will be when developing foods, beverages and/or dietary supplements in the next two years, weight management and digestive health topped the list. This marked an important shift, in that cardiovascular health was edged out slightly from the No. 2 position overall (although it tied with digestive health when only the top two categories of importance were considered).


As percentages, the following are the top five “most important health factors in food/beverage/supplement development” survey respondents identified: weight management (70%), digestive health (65%), cardiovascular health (65%), diabetes (63%) and cognitive health (56%).


All of the top categories showed decreases over the previous year. This was not because they were deemed less important individually, but because the ranking of other health issues showed movement in from the perimeter. Thus, the remaining issues categorized as extremely or very important were: reducing cancer risk (53%), energy/performance (51%), aging (51%) and immunity (50%).

Falling below half of processors’ top rankings were joint health (48%), eye and vision health (41%), and beauty-from-within (31%). It still shows weight, however, that in all these cases, such significant numbers—nearly one third or more—of processors considered these to be critical health issues worth addressing in product development.


Functional product manufacturers start the development process the same as any professionals, with a gathering of information. To that end, processors once again said that they consider ingredient suppliers to be best source for knowledge about the integral components they’ll need in formulating. In fact, this year, that confidence in suppliers jumped from 58% to 64%.


It’s easy to see why this is: It’s the rare ingredient house that does not have on staff a biochemical science PhD or three (or even 23) who are scientists first and foremost.

Add to this the state-of-the-art innovation centers and on-hand teams that have the ability to devote their entire focus to the ingredients or class ingredients in question, and it’s clear that suppliers are full-fledged team members in the product development game.


In such company, coming in second (alongside the processors’ own colleagues) as the go-to source for information on new nutraceutical or nutritional ingredients is not so bad for the trade/B2B, journals such as Prepared Foods. (Well, OK, it does hurt—just a little bit.) However, those among the top brass at functional food and beverage companies need to brush up more on their own field, it seems: Processors ranked supervisors/administration last (12%) as the turn-to points for functional ingredient information.


View from Above

The ingredient decisions that drive the development of a functional food, beverage or supplement to address a particular condition, lifestyle or demographic group involve much more than yes, no and “what form?” to employ.


Availability, purity, consistency, cost and consumer interest contribute the most influence, along with the organoleptic characteristics and, critically, the strength of the science behind the purported beneficial effects.


Prepared Foods presented 27 trending functional ingredients and ingredient categories to processors and asked them to rank their importance to their product development plans in the coming two years. In general categories, gluten-free ingredients, non-GMO ingredients and functional sweeteners topped the lists.

Although the first addresses a very narrow demographic when it comes to actual medical need, it’s well documented that consumer perception of a health benefit can override science. Two thirds of respondents ranked it as the most important ingredient category.


The second, non-GMO ingredients, also is directed more toward a generally perceived need than one established by research, but the trend is undeniably a part of the overall “better-for-you” health concern of consumers.


To that end, 64% of respondents raised non-GMOs to a close second place in important ingredients, tied with functional sweeteners at the same level.

Whole grains and seeds are in their second generation of recognition as an important healthful ingredient, and 62% of processors in this year’s survey said these will be extremely or very important to their product development plans over the next two years. Fruit and vegetable powders and extracts, dairy proteins, non-soy plant proteins, amino acids, flax/chia/hemp and soy proteins all ranked high for processors, as well. (See chart, “Important Ingredients”)


Protein Push

Protein is still viewed as a primary functional ingredient by consumers. Consumer research group HealthFocus recently reported that 21% of US consumers polled said they were “interested in protein.” Innova reported recently that an “amazing 15% of cereal products launches tracked in the US in 2013 carried a protein claim, with launches including mainstream brands such as Cheerios” and found “high/source of protein” as a product claim is growing. This trend is in spite of the fact that the Western diet includes more than sufficient levels of protein.


The perception of protein as a key weight-loss/energy ingredient is strength-ened by such influences as market-ing and fad diets (i.e., Paleo).  Innova also reported that “dairy is the biggest category for high-protein claims,” with 22% of such launches in the category. New protein beverages included such items as: breakfast shakes, smoothies, milk, yogurt, cultured dairy, and dairy alternatives, all with claims promoting the ingredient for “satiety, energy, alertness and bone strengthening.”


Still, there are populations for whom protein supplementation is critical. As noted by Innova Market Insights’ director of innovation Lu Ann Williams, there is an alarming rise in sarcopenia—the decline of muscle mass, particularly among seniors, and especially among women beginning in their 40s. Sarcopenia leads to accelerated declines in health on multiple levels. Exacerbated by the sedentary lifestyle typical of today’s overworked, under-vacationed “Gap” generation, the condition could be considered at a crisis point in the US.


According to Innova’s data, while just under 3% of global food and beverage launches in the year ending March 31 of 2014 were marketed as “high-protein” or designated as a “source-of-protein,” that figure was more than double—6%—for US launches.


Williams points out that whey protein is in especially high demand, appearing as a “natural, healthy ingredient, particularly in sports, medical and infant nutrition, as well as in weight management.” Innova data show that whey has “risen from eighth position in 2012 to third position in 2013” for proteins included in ingredient and product patents.



More Fungus Among Us

During the mid-1990s the kombucha fad was in full swing. The funky fermented tea beverage from Asia boasted friendly bacteria, fungal and yeast cultures and was largely homemade from kits or available from small-production manufacturers in health food shops. But when people began to get seriously ill from improperly made product (including some fatal events where tainted kombucha was a prime suspect), the fad was as good as done. A few years ago, however, kombucha began a strong comeback. Product launch activity tracked by Innova was “relatively stagnant” until 2013, when launches jumped by 200% over the previous year. Although 2014 numbers are showing some leveling off, a few more functional beverage makers will likely be fermenting their tea in the next few years.


The number of nut and seed protein patents also has spiked, reports Williams, from single digits in 2012 to more than 200 such patents filed in 2013. Other sources of protein growing alongside dairy proteins include pea protein, which, according to Williams, has shown “dramatic recent growth,” appearing in pastas and cereals with greater frequency.


Other leguminous sources of protein also are gaining ground, including mung bean, red bean and lupins. New entrants in the protein parade are proteins from unusual sources, such as potatoes, rice, corn and mushrooms. And, as mentioned, algal sources of protein not only have interested processors but have the legs to carry the trend deep into the food industry.



Among vitamins and minerals, the minerals topped the charts in importance, at 67% of processors finding them “extremely” or “very” important to their line-ups. On the tails of a wealth of published studies and impressive media recognition, vitamin D is finally getting its day in the sun, with 62% of processors determining it to be extremely or very important to their product development needs. (For rankings of vitamins A, C, E, K and the B vitamins, see chart, “Important Vitamins, Nutraceuticals and Oils.”)


In its survey of global product launches carrying a specific vitamin/mineral fortified positioning, Innova Market Insights found that the use of vitamin E is on the rise. Although not differentiating between vitamin E in its tocopherol form (tocotrienols are just beginning to get noticed in the functional products arena), it’s safe to assume the majority of Innova’s data is focused on tocopherols.



That said, while in 2011, vitamin E appeared in just over a fourth of product launches, the figure hit nearly one third, 31%, in 2012. The following year saw a jump to 35%, and the number inched up again, to 36%, last year. According to Innova, the leading market categories for vitamin E usage in 2014 were: baby food (43%), dairy (7.4%), cereals (7.2%) and soft drinks (6.4%).


As in previous years, antioxidants were the most important ingredient considerations in the development of foods, beverages and dietary supplements in the immediate future (66%). Interestingly, botanicals followed for the second-most important at 62%—well ahead of last year’s numbers—and pushing probiotic bacteria and superfruits to a third-place tie at 59%.


Prebiotic/dietary fibers, although surprisingly down from previous years, still garnered a very/extremely important level with 57% of processors.

Still, dietary fibers and other prebiotic/functional carbohydrates are not losing ground. For example, when Innova Market Insights tracked global product launches bearing a specific active health positioning, it found that “the use of inulin is present in a very stable 4% of all active health-positioned products for every year from 2011-2014.”



Study Details

In November 2014, BNP Media’s Market Research Division contacted all active, qualified subscribers of Prepared Foods magazine who declared their company currently developed and marketed, or planned to develop and market, functional foods, beverages and dietary supplements. Key objectives were to identify: involvement in formulating with or specifying ingredients; frequently used sources of information on new nutraceutical or nutritional ingredients; and importance of various health and wellness issues when developing products.


Four American Express gift cards (one valued at $250, one valued at $100 and two valued at $50) were given away to four randomly selected, qualified participants. Of nearly 400 surveys attempted, 162 fit all parameters for completion and usability. All closed-ended numerical data were tabulated using a statistical software package (SPSS), while open-ended questions were either summarized, coded or included as written by respondents, as appropriate. Sample sizes varied throughout the report due to “skip logic,” data cleaning or missing responses. Some percentage totals did not equal 100%, due to rounding.

Innova also noted that “for global product launch activity tracked containing inulin in 2014 with an active health positioning, the leading active health positionings were: digestive/gut health (34%), vitamin/mineral fortified (21%) and omega-3 (15%).”


Algae Bloom

Last year, just over one third of processors (38%) taking the survey targeted algae?/microalgae?derived ingredients as most important to their development interests. This year, that number jumped to an eyebrow-raising 43%. While the attraction of versatility, unmatched sustainability, availability and pricing could have lifted the highly eco-friendly organisms, so too could the increased channels for use.


Until recently, Spirulina and Chlorella were nearly the sole products commonly made with microalgae, and relegated to supplements and bars sold in health food venues. Later, colorants and antioxidants in the form of beta-carotene and astaxanthin from microalgae entered the market, but more as topicals for cosmetic use. A few years ago, astaxanthin attained GRAS status and has flowed into some beverage products. Still, demand for cosmetic use has surpassed capacity of production.


Thanks to improved bio-refining methods that can delicately separate the bioactive components of microalgae from the individual cells, algae-derived ingredients should enjoy a substantial increase in availability. Microalgae can be used to produce high-quality protein, functional fibers, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and a rich flour that can be used in formulations that replace eggs and added fats.


The burst of research on algae has, since 2009, yielded a marked increase in patent activity, publications and new product launches containing protein ingredients from microalgae.


As reported, microalgae have been viewed in the science and futurist communities for decades as a panacea for a crowded planet. Yet, only in the past few years has cultivation of the organisms begun in earnest.


According to Innova, “the global production of algae grown through sunlight, minerals and CO2 is around 15,000 tons per year.” While that pales in comparison to other crops grown in the hundreds of millions of tons, the technological advancements and promise of return on investment indicate this is the ground floor of what could be a legitimate food ingredient revolution.


The sudden jump in use of microalgae as a source for multiple ingredients, from astaxanthin to protein and functional flours, got another shot in the arm in the last two years, as high-EPA (eicosapenaenoic acid) omega-3 from highly sustainable microalgae sources hit the market. It’s hard to get more sustainable than omega-3 oils derived from microalgae, which can be grown just about anywhere and do especially well in harsh, empty desert environments using brackish water. Research also suggests EPA could be the most beneficial form of omega-3 fatty acid overall.



According to this year’s survey, the class of functional lipids stayed essentially unchanged from last year. Sixty-five percent of processors said vegetarian omega oils were extremely or very important to their product development plans for the next two years. Marine omegas were at 53%, down a mere percentage point from last year. And, 41% of those surveyed thought Co-Q10 would be extremely or very important to their needs.


Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids continue embedding themselves into consumers’ quotidian experience. With omega-3-enhanced milk, eggs and orange juice so ubiquitous, it’s the rare breakfast table that does not feature the highly beneficial lipids. Concurrent with the omega trend are increased options for omega forms from non-marine sources, such as salmon, anchovies and krill.


Although krill omegas recently received verification for sustainability, with a recent New York Times report declaring that “the annual krill harvest is still well within the limits set by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources,” ecological impact concerns still abound.


Plant omegas in the ALA (alphalinolenic acid) form from more established sources, such as flax seed, continue to be popular for vegetarian food and beverage formulations. And these turn out to be more bioavailable than previously thought. But pumpkin seed, mustard, borage and—as only recently recognized—purslane are getting increased play in the crowded field.


Hemp, too, is set to re-emerge. Although not derived from its psychoactive cousin, hemp has flirted with popularity as an ingredient for good reason: It’s an excellent source of ALA.


Archaic restrictions on raising hemp as a crop in the US have been in place since the 1930s, but hemp from Canada crossed the border in food products just over a decade ago. Also, the decriminalization and even legalization (under certain conditions) of cannabis is expected to open the gates to hemp farming in the US.

Chia seed, already a trendy ingredient, is poised to emerge as a primary source of plant omegas.


“Chia is one of the richest combined sources of omega-3, protein and fiber,” says John Foss, CEO and founder of the Chia Co., a maker of chia-based breakfast foods. “It also is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.”


As with many new “boutique” processors of healthful, nutraceutical-enhanced products, The Chia Co. exercises total control over quality from field to shelf, growing the chia on its own farms and timing harvests for maximum amounts of omegas.


“We grow Chia in the Kimberley region of western Australia, exactly 15 degrees south of the equator,” explains Foss. “Chia is a latitude-specific crop, meaning it needs to grow at the right latitude for the right climate and day length to ensure the maximum levels of omega-3 oil develops in the seeds.”


Foss sees in his own company’s success an example of how well chia is trending. “2014 was an exciting, challenging year for us with fast growth into many new countries. We’re anticipating an equally busy and exciting 2015 and are very optimistic about the chia category growth.” Foss adds that experts estimate the category to reach $1 billion by 2020.


However, research on various omega oils never ceases, and a “new kid” has arrived on the block: omega-7 (a.k.a., palmitoleic acid or vaccenic acid). The omega-7 fatty acid is an emerging ingredient, according to Innova Market Insights.


Global product launch activity of products containing omega-7 tracked by Innova showed a 143% surge in 2013 over 2012 (from a small base). However, 2014 product launch numbers are projected to come out as similar to that of 2013.

Currently, supplements are the leading category for omega-7 product launches tracked, accounting for 87.5% of product launches, according to Innova. This is followed by soft drinks, for only 5% and sauces and seasonings at 3%.


Omega-7 oil is a monounsaturated fat (MUFA) that occurs naturally in macadamia nuts and sea buckthorn. Research into the health benefits of MUFAs has been going on for decades and yielded a host of benefits, especially to heart health. But few studies have been done on the health benefits of this specific MUFA. However, sea buckthorn has flirted with popularity in the US for its antioxidant, immunodilating and cancer-protecting phytochemicals. The ability to boast of healthy fatty acids could help the ingredient get more attention in coming years.



Probiotics are certainly continuing their push into the mainstream. As noted previously, processors found digestive health to be the second-most important health concern of consumers.


“After the initial taboo-shattering ads of a decade ago featuring Jamie Lee Curtis talking about digestive health, the combination of big research, big names and big advertising all have had their effect,” notes Alan Murray, CEO of NextFoods Inc., makers of the GoodBelly line of non-dairy probiotic beverages and shots. “According to some statistics, the ‘general US population’s awareness of probiotics has increased from 15% to 85% over the last decade’.”


Alongside the technology that allows beneficial probiotic bacteria to survive processing, as well as the trip to the colon where they perform the majority of their good work, the number and the variety of products featuring probiotics continues to grow.


“We have to remember that they are living organisms and are somewhat fussy about where they live,” says Murray.


“Creating the right medium and carrier is key,” he continues. “We had to make many variants to get an ideal stability/efficacy balance. But that is a good thing, I suppose, because it means that it’s difficult to copy! It’s the magic of getting temperature, nutrients and other ingredients in a harmonious balance that is important. And of course, making the products taste delicious is vital, because we are talking about food, after all.”

In all surveys, consumer awareness and knowledge about probiotics has reached near-complete market saturation. Murray points to statistics presented recently by the Transparency Market Research group showing that the probiotic supplement market continues to grow in the US and abroad, and “is expected to reach $44.9 billion in 2018,” up from nearly $28 billion in 2011 and “growing at a CAGR of 6.8% from 2013-2018.”


“Health is playing a bigger role overall in food purchase decisions,” says Murray. “In 2013, the International Food Information Council found that ‘health influenced the food purchase decisions of 64% of consumers, up from 61% in 2012.’ Also, last year, the research group Information Resources found that ‘the combination of nutritional benefits, indulgence and culinary/gourmet excitement is the key to consumers’ decisions to try new healthy food products.’”



Keep an Eye Open

By David Feder, RDN

Every year, dozens of ingredients are touted as the “next best thing.” Some have legitimate benefits, but little potential, due to pricing or availability; some think they can get by just on their exoticness yet have no exceptional nutraceutical value. Then there are those that should have been stars on all counts but still haven’t landed in the spotlight. Not everything can be the next açai or quinoa, but here are some personal favorites worth knowing.


Purslane – Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a low-growing, spreading plant with russet stems and small, thick, dark green, pearl-shaped leaves. It grows across a wide range of climes and terrains, but is considered a weed in the US It was a common salad green in Europe in the Middle Ages and was enjoyed at the table in America until the 1800s. It’s excellent cooked, as well as raw, with a taste like lemony asparagus.

Purslane’s centuries-old history as a folk medicine has been supported by recent animal research indicating it can inhibit inflammation of vascular endothelial cells and other microvascular complications of diabetic subjects by inhibition of inflammation. It is believed this anti-inflammatory ability extends to general cardiovascular protection.

Preclinical animal studies also indicate purslane has a positive effect on blood glucose metabolism, helps raise serum insulin and increases insulin sensitivity, while decreasing blood glucose and reducing circulating free fatty acids. For these qualities, the plant and its compounds are being looked at as aids to improve glucose tolerance and manage weight.


Saw palmetto — Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) has been popular as a supplement for the mitigation of symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia for more than a decade, especially combined with lycopene and selenium. Research on its efficacy has been mixed, but more recent studies, alongside an unusually rich lode of anecdotal evidence, suggest a tangible benefit for this condition that affects some 50% of men aged 50 and up, and 85% above age 80.


Cacao fruit — Studies of the high-antioxidant value of cocoa flavonols was a shot in the arm for the chocolate industry. Informing the world that its favorite food is healthful…well, there’s no closing the floodgates on that. The dizzying rise in chocolate consumption and the expanding offerings of pure, sustainable, fair trade artisanal dark chocolate bars demonstrate Moore’s Law applied to food. (See “Chocolate, Chocolate, Vanilla,” in last month’s issue of PF, and “Sweet Afters: Rapid Growth in Sweet Indulgence Foods,” PF, September 2014.)


But there’s more to the cacao plant than chocolate. Enter Agro Innova Co. Agro Innova is the maker of Suavva, a thick beverage that promotes the functional benefits of cacao fruit (Theobroma cacao)—that is, the pulp or the spongy-white casing inside the cocoa pod that protects the cocoa beans. Processed cocoa pulp has a sweet-tart flavor and a texture similar to aloe.


It takes about 25 of the football-sized pods to produce one quart of cacao fruit purée. Suavva is made from Ecuadorian cacao fruit. Joseph Montgomery, Agro Innova’s CEO, notes his family has “been involved in cacao production in Ecuador for 200 years.” The smoothie-like Suavva beverages are currently available in four flavors, Amazing Cacao, Merry Mango, Blissful Berry and Chocolatey Cheer. The company also is offering a powdered form of the fruit as an ingredient for food and beverage processors.


Cupuaçu — Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum), from the Amazon, is a cousin of the cacao tree and produces a similar fruit. It is extremely high in antioxidants, especially flavonoids such as catechins (like green tea) and quercitin (like wine). But cupuaçu also contains healthful alkaloids—a lot like its cousin’s caffeine, theophiline and theobromide. In cupuaçu’s case, the alkaloid is theacrine. Theacrine has shown to be a significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory compound. Best of all, cupuaçu can be turned into a chocolate analog that has the advantage of being more sustainable as a crop and resembles a slightly reddish, pale milk chocolate.


“Chocolate” made from cupuaçu has a slight, natural hint of coffee flavor. As a cocoa powder analog, cupuaçu turns a pale red when baked—sort of a natural red velvet cake.


Mycoceuticals — Extracts and powders of mushrooms and other fungi, as food ingredients and as GRAS additives or as medicinal supplements, will continue to generate excitement. Driving this has been the discovery of bioactive benefits in such culinary standbys as oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, black mushrooms, hen-of-the-woods and even vitamin D-rich button mushrooms. Look for a special feature on mushrooms in an upcoming issue of Prepared Foods.


Tigernuts — Also called “earth almonds,” the incredibly versatile rhizome knob of the Cyperus esculentus variety of yellow sedge is being used for snacks, granola, beverages (horchata) and gluten-free flour. The Mediterranean native is rich in resistant starch and has a naturally sweet taste, making it a come-from-behind winner worth watching.





According to Murray, this suggests that “consumers increasingly are seeking to maintain or improve their health through proactively eating properly, rather than reactively popping pills for a cure.” He points to further IRI statistics demonstrating that “seven out of the top 10 best-selling new US foods/beverages introduced in 2013 had a healthier-for-you positioning.”


GoodBelly decided early on to employ a straightforward, “feel the effect” approach to marketing its brand and “avoided chasing every category and retail opportunity to avoid the ‘boom/splat’ of great growth through distribution, without the engine of consumer awareness.” It’s worked. “While data show that the refrigerated juice and functional beverage category is up 7%, GoodBelly is outpacing the category at plus 35%,” says Murray.


There are many categories one could expect to see a probiotic food or beverage enter, but Murray cautions that any such product must be credible.

“A while back, we saw probiotic pizza crust, but consumers struggled to find this believable. So we are likely to see the successes staying closer in to the logical categories, such as yogurt and kefir. Having been on the market for more than five years, we’re seeing that core consumers are getting the word out about the efficacy of GoodBelly.”


Murray also credits the new viral marketing between consumers for successful launches in the category.


“Our fans are actively engaged in communicating the benefits that they feel,” he says, “and it’s so much better for a brand if the users are doing the work for you. New consumers always are more likely to believe a friend than a pushed message from the brand office. Unfortunately, we are unable to use the hundreds of letters we get from consumers, as they claim to feel benefits that fall beyond the structure/function claims that we can responsibly make.”


For any beneficial food or beverage, scientific backing must also be credible. Adds Murray: “The 16 human research trials backing the GoodBelly Lactobacillus plantarum 299v strain make us feel comfortable that we fall firmly into the ‘survivor and thriver’ category.”



Among the mostly non-nutritive, but highly bioactive, ingredients marketed for health, amino acids are suddenly “in” again. While many of these are promoted for their function as precursors to other forms of bioactive compounds, their platform traditionally was embedded in the sports-enhancement channel, with focus on muscle metabolism and function.

L-glutamine is one example. As a critical amino acid in synthesis of muscle protein, it also is one of the key amino acids of genetic coding. It is the body’s most prevalent amino acid, but it is found abundantly in nature—and so exists in a wide variety of foods. Since humans can manufacture it internally from that food, it is considered a vital compound. However, in severe physical stress—say, body-building or marathon running—it becomes what is called “conditionally essential.”


L-arginine is another amino acid key to the genetic coding and also one of the most abundant and nutritionally available amino acids. And, as with glutamine, it also is conditionally essential, important to building and repairing muscle and vascular tissues.


Arginine is used in the metabolic pathways that rid the body of highly toxic ammonia, release hormones and make nitric oxide, an antihypertensive vasodilator. It helps the body generate glucose, which is converted into glycogen, the form of glucose stored in the muscles and liver.


The use of arginine increased by 9% in 2014 from 2013, according to Innova Market Insights. Arginine usage has grown steadily in the past few years, from 0.15% of products noted in 2011 to 0.28% last year. It’s appeared predominantly in nutritional powders and beverages, plus it is used in some baby formulas, along with other essential amino acids.


L-citrulline has been the subject of research for its value as a precursor to L-arginine and, thus, important in muscle synthesis. New studies demonstrate citrulline as especially effective in internal wound repair, especially after hard workouts.

Citrulline has an advantage over arginine in that some negative gastrointestinal effects have been observed with overdoses of arginine that are not in citrulline. Although citrulline and most other amino acids often are used in dietary supplements, they are GRAS for various food and beverage applications.

Choline is rapidly coming in from the shadows of nutritional needs. (See “Choline: The Silent Deficiency,” PF, January 2015.)  Choline is especially critical for pregnant women and babies, as it is a key component in cognitive development and function. It is used as a fundamental component in building the brain’s memory center in infants and toddlers.


As with folate, considered to be a metabolic cousin of choline, it helps prevent neural tube defects. In adults, choline has been shown to helps prevent the onset of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It also is beneficial to heart health and liver health. And, being an amino acid, choline is helpful for sports performance.


Innova found that the use of choline increased by 24% in 2014 over the previous year, noting that choline use grew from 0.76% of products in 2011 to 1.7% for 2014. In choline’s case, baby formula and baby cereal products were the highest usage channels. However, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals for kids and adults, such as Post Inc.’s  Alpha Bits cereal, have added choline.


Coca Cola Co.’s VitaminWater was one of the first mainstream beverages for adults to include choline, and Minute Maid released its Pomegranate Blueberry Juice with added choline.



Phytochemicals continue to be an attractive functional ingredient, especially as they fill the highly desirable antioxidant category, which is their primary bioactive function. Of these, polyphenols continue to dominate the category.


Grand View Research Inc. recently reported: “The global market for polyphenols is expected to reach USD$1,025.7 million by 2020.” The group pointed to a “growing consumer awareness regarding health benefits offered by polyphenols,” which it sees as driving an increased demand among product developers.


Grand View’s research also proved that grape seed polyphenols have “emerged as the leading product segment in the global market and accounted for 53.9% of total market volume in 2013.” The group also predicts polyphenol extracts from green tea will be “the fastest growing product segment, at an estimated CAGR of 8.9% from 2014-2020.” It sees the market for tea polyphenols hitting nearly $368 million by 2020.


About half of the polyphenol usage has been in functional beverages, such as energy drinks, enhanced waters and health beverages. Still, foods with added polyphenolic content accounted for nearly a third of such product launches.


In 2014, according to Grand View, 70% of polyphenol ingredients were sourced from green tea, a plant with especially high levels of catechins (such as EGCG), flavanols and other polyphenolic compounds. While earlier research suggested green tea was the primary source for these antioxidants, later research determined that all tea is rich in phytochemicals compounds. Grand View’s research determined that oolong tea- and black tea-derived polyphenols made up the second and third largest sources, respectively.


Curcumin, from turmeric, has maintained its pole position as a mega-hot health ingredient. With perhaps one of the strongest legacies in Eastern folk medicine, curcumin has been promoted as beneficial in countering the symptoms of a number of disease states, including cancers of the organs, circulatory and cardiovascular diseases, and skin diseases—even arthritis.


Scientific research has supported certain beneficial actions of certain compounds, such as an ability to curtail cancerous growth and development in vitro, but more research remains to be completed to establish it as curative.


Still, curcumin as an extract from turmeric continues to excite processors and has appeared in herbal teas, beverages and even some non-ethnic food applications with growing frequency. It experienced a jump of more than 26% in application from 2012-2013, according to the American Botanical Council.


Anthocyanins, another phytochemical compound group that gained popularity as the active antioxidants in purple and red fruits—so-called superfruits—like berries, açai, pomegranates, cherries, etc.—are set to gain something of a jumpstart now that purple corn is breaking out. The deep-purple cultivar is particularly rich in anthocyanins, but was used primarily as a source of natural colorants and extracts.

However, products made from purple corn meal, such as tortilla chips, have proven particularly popular in the market, and purple corn syrup is slated to enter the market a little later this year. When purple popcorn is perfected, expect purple to be the new “black” in the highly lucrative and desirable snack market.


Among other functional ingredients popping up in foods, beverages and supplements, look for such break-outs as moringa (Moringa oleifera), an Indian plant particularly rich in such nutrients as beta-carotene, vitamin K and the mineral manganese. In powdered form, it already has made its way into a line of yogurt products.


Also popping up are tigernuts (Cyperus esculentus)—actually the tuber root of the yellow sedge family that has been used for centuries as a food source in North Africa, India, the Middle East and the Antipodes. Tigernuts are especially rich in vitamin E and the prebiotic carbohydrate, resistant starch, making it valuable for digestive health.


The sweet, nutty-flavored ingredient has been used to make beverages, flours and a recently released horchata beverage by maker Organic Gemini Inc. Horchata is a sweetened rice milk popular in Mexico; however, there is evidence it began in Spain as originally made from tiger nuts.


While predictions of the success or fading of any one ingredient are sometimes hazardous at best, it’s clear that the market for functional ingredients is still strong, as consumers see—and demand—less and less of a division between foods, beverages and health.