Keeping Health Up When the Economy Is Down

Jun 22, 2009

Unemployment, loss of health insurance, and for some, a general concern to scale back spending, are causing consumers to look for ways to cut their healthcare costs. For some of these consumers, that means taking preventive measures by staying healthy through the use of supplements.

The notion that consumers are increasingly turning to supplements to shore up their health is what Shazia Haq explores in her article, titled "A New Healthcare Approach?". As she reports, in a survey issued by the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 51% of those surveyed indicated that the recession would not cause them to stop or reduce purchasing supplements.

While supplement sales are up, growth in the functional foods market is slowing slightly, according to Packaged Facts' May report, Functional Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 4th Edition. According to Packaged Facts, U.S. sales growth for functional foods was 6% in 2008, totaling $30.7 billion in sales, as opposed to 8% in 2007.

There could be several reasons for this small slowdown. Consumers may be reluctanct to purchase expensive functional foods during a recession. Today, shoppers are looking for a bargain. As a result, Packaged Facts says, they may be more prone to purchasing functional foods in larger, value-sized packages in outlets such as Walmart and club stores.

Another possible reason for the slowdown in growth is the maturity of the functional foods market, Packaged Facts suggests. However, based on the impression that I took away from this month's Institute of Food Technologists trade show in Anaheim, CA, the functional foods market seems poised for growth.

Many ingredient suppliers that our editors spoke to seem intent on expanding their reach in the functional foods market. Many seem focused on ramping up new applications and formats for their ingredients, to broaden the ways in which their ingredients can be used in foods.

Although growth in functional foods may have declined for now, if the economy improves, it will most likely pick up soon. Packaged Facts predicts category gains to speed up through the rest of this year and 2010. It projects that U.S. retail sales of functional foods could reach approximately $43 billion by 2013.

Health is important to today's consumers. Perhaps because consumers are becoming more educated about nutrition, largely thanks to the advertising and health claims that they see on shelves and in the media, consumers are still motivated to maintain their health through diet and supplements, even in rough economic times.

If health is of primary importance to consumers, as the numbers indicate, then it's easy to imagine consumers finding other ways to trim their budgets without cutting supplements and functional foods out of their diets. If product marketers, researchers, and suppliers can find a way to address consumers' needs—cost-effective foods that show real, proven health benefits—then our market, and consumers, will stay healthy.

Jennifer Kwok
Editor
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