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Zero-Calorie Natural Sweeteners
Last year’s regulatory approval for stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) in Canada, South Africa, and Indonesia grew stevia’s global footprint. This year, two more major markets—Thailand and India—may get approval. “Recent and pending approvals represent the potential access to over 1.6 billion new consumers around the world,” says Jason Hecker, vice president, global marketing and innovation, PureCircle Ltd. (Oak Brook, IL). “By the end of 2012, over 1000 stevia-sweetened products were launched globally.”
Over the next year, drinks and tabletop sweeteners will continue to lead, but we will also see more breakfast cereals, snacks, desserts such as ice cream, confectionery products, and jams and jellies with stevia, adds Maria Teresa Scardigli, executive director of the International Stevia Council (Brussels).
Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is also gaining. “After 15 years of development work ahead of the curve, it is incredibly satisfying and exciting to see monk fruit as a sweetener now coming into commercial reality,” says Chris Tower, president, Layn USA (Newport Beach, CA).
Two major tabletop launches in 2012, Nectresse by Splenda maker McNeil Nutritionals and Monk Fruit In The Raw by Cumberland Packaging, herald more to come from the monk fruit market—and indeed for natural sweeteners overall. “We have...high expectations for Monk Fruit In The Raw, as the pace of retailer acceptances has been faster than anticipated,” says Cumberland’s Sara Slivon. Also, she says, sales of Stevia In The Raw recently surpassed sales of Sugar In The Raw.
“We see [monk fruit] as complementing, not cannibalizing, stevia’s demand and popularity with consumers,” Tower says. He points out that, when paired with stevia in formulation, monk fruit provides “slighter up-front sweetness” and a longer-lasting, better aftertaste. “This balances out those opposite, related characteristics of stevia,” he says.
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is the world’s most expensive spice. A single saffron crocus bears only three stigmas from which the spice is extracted, and each flower must be handpicked. For all its labor intensiveness, there must be something more to saffron than its use for flavor and color.
Published research over the last several years at least suggests this much, with saffron studies showing potential benefit for stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, and even sexual health. Long-term studies on adults have found saffron to be equally effective as antidepressants, and a 2012 study found saffron improved erectile dysfunction associated with fluoxetine (Prozac). Another 2012 study found saffron to improved fluoxetine-related female sexual dysfunction. The standard dose for saffron is 30 mg daily, yet a 2011 study found the mere odor of saffron (even when undetected) could lower stress hormones more than placebo.
How exactly saffron might improve these and other health areas is still up for debate, but it likely has to do with saffron’s main antioxidant compounds: crocin and crocetin. It’s this antioxidant potential that motivates ongoing saffron studies in other areas, such as eye health. Iran, the world’s lead harvester of saffron, is largely responsible for contemporary saffron research. Ingredient suppliers are also paying attention, such as Nutraceuticals International Group (Paramus, NJ), with its branded Saffr’Active ingredient.
Krill’s share of the omega-3 market is still small—but no other source is growing market share as quickly. “While traditional sources of omega-3s limp along at 5%–6% growth, krill is growing in the high double-digits. It grew 43% last year in the natural channel and 70% in the food/drug/mass channel,” says Becky Wright, communications and marketing manager, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US (Issaquah, WA).
“We think 2013 will show what the category is capable of,” adds Even Remøy, sales and marketing director for Olympic Seafood, a Norwegian company whose Rimfrost Krill division last year became the newest comer to the ingredients sector.
Although krill still comes in at only about 6%–8% consumer awareness compared to omega-3s overall, says Wright, prominent launches are helping. Schiff Nutrition’s MegaRed is working it in the mass market, and in the natural channel, omega-3 brand Barlean’s is just now coming to market with its new Wild & Whole Krill Oil with Aker’s Superba ingredient. “Krill is just another no-brainer line extension for us. It provides better absorption and efficient delivery in the form of phospholipids, and great sustainability,” says Andreas Koch,
If it weren’t for FDA approving canola oil for infant formula last fall, this fat probably wouldn’t make our list. FDA’s nod gives formula makers another oil to work with, and this one might just be viewed as a “premium” fat for infants.
Canola oil is produced from the crushing of the canola plant, a relative of rapeseed (Brassica napus, Brassica rapa, or Brassica juncea) standardized for low erucic acid and glucosinolate levels. Based on December 2012 prices, canola oil is slightly more expensive than soybean oil, but its healthier fat profile might justify its price. Canola oil has more of the requisite omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other commonly consumed oil, and less saturated fat, too. The ingredient also holds a lower ratio of omega-6 alpha-lipoic acid (LA) to omega-3 ALA.
Babies aside, canola oil is increasingly used in healthy snacks, and high-oleic canola oil is providing better stability in all applications.
Because flax (Linum usitatissimum) is one of the most popular plant sources of omega-3s, expect sales to remain steady for this ingredient. Or look at the recent science and picture an even brighter future.
Aside from its rich reserves of select nutrients like fiber, protein, and omega-3 ALA, something else appears to be brewing in flax that could give the ingredient a bump in heart health sales. Recent trials using flaxseed or flax oil consistently show significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and maybe even fasting glucose levels (a plus for diabetics).
Still, none of these recent studies have garnered as much attention as Flax-PAD, a 2012 placebo-controlled trial on 110 adults with PAD (peripheral arterial disease). After six months of consuming baked goods with 30 g of milled flaxseed daily, subjects saw what lead researcher Delfin Rodriguez, PhD, deemed “the largest decrease in blood pressure ever shown by any dietary intervention.” Rodriguez said such reductions could likely result in a 50% lower risk of stroke and a 30% lower risk of heart attack.
Flax continues to find its way into baked goods, but not just for flax’s nutrition. A recent bakery study found flax (as a flour) could replace up to 12% of wheat flour in cookies without affecting their structure.
The high risk of spoilage that still comes with flax products might be on its way out, as flaxseed supplier Glanbia Nutritionals (Fitchburg, WI) just launched a flax heat treatment process, MicroSure Plus, which the company says uses a “5-log kill process” equating to 99.999% pathogen destruction. Flax formulated with MicroSure Plus should offer a shelf life of at least two years.
Business is up for Bs, which offer many benefits. Sam Wright IV, CEO of The Wright Group (Crowley, LA), lists just a few: pantethine and niacin for healthy cholesterol; pyridoxine, B12, and folic acid for reducing homocysteine levels; folic acid for preventing fetal neural tube defects; riboflavin for depression; biotin for skin health; pyridoxine and B12 for colorectal cancer; B12 and pyridoxine for brain function.
B vitamins—particularly thiamine and B12—are popular in energy drinks these days as consumers look for healthy energy-boosters. “We also see rising use of biotin and panthenol in beauty drinks,” Wright says.
Other companies dealing in B agree that business is on the up. Dave Dobkin, operations manager for B12 lollipop marketer Revitapop, attributes the rise to recent articles highlighting B12’s role in memory function. Kyowa Hakko USA (New York City) says increased sales of its Pantesin B5 are driven by recent studies like one showing reductions in total cholesterol by 6 mg/dl and LDL by 4 mg/dl, at a 600 mg/day dose. And leading B3 supplier Lonza (Basel, Switzerland) plans to open a new B3 manufacturing facility in China, citing high demand.
“Another spur to growth is the fact that some very expensive products like B12 and biotin have come down in price in recent years, opening up new opportunities,” Wright says.
Wishful thinking has some suppliers hoping that aloe (Aloe vera or Aloe barbadensis Miller) is the next coconut water. A noticeable uptick in aloe beverage brands is as good an indication as any, not to mention aloe’s global recognition for beverages and topicals. Research on aloe is still admittedly lacking, but there are bright spots in the areas of cholesterol reduction, fasting glucose reduction, oral health, and wound healing.
Aloe quality and compliance standards are also a new focus. At the 2012 International Aloe Science Council’s aloe summit, presentations revealed concern about aloe products having little to no aloe in them. The American Herbal Pharmacopeia addressed this issue with its November 2012 release of an AHP monograph for Aloe vera leaf juice and Aloe vera inner leaf juice.
The pomegranate (Punica granatum) story is full of new science, including positive trials on blood pressure and inflammation, and several ongoing POM Wonderful (Los Angeles) trials on prostate health. Verdure Sciences (Noblesville, IN) even discovered new compounds in the pomegranate flower: punicatannins A and B.
“Punicatannins contain a very rare functional moiety that has only been found in one other plant species on the planet,” says Verdure technical director Blake Ebersole. “Punicatannins have antidiabetic activity, which could be related to this moiety. The discovery of new chemistry in natural products such as this one is often used as a foundation to not only develop new drug treatments, but also supplements with new activities.”
Promising research continues to drive sales of curcumin (Curcuma longa), whose antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties address some of today’s biggest health concerns—arthritis, neurodegenerative disorders and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart health, diabetes, and gastrointestinal health. Research is also exploring effects on prostate and skin health and wound healing. Metabolic syndrome is also mentioned more frequently, given curcumin’s links with inflammation, diabetes, and cardiovascular support.
N. Kalyanam, PhD, president, research and development, for Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), says the firm’s Curcumin C3 Complex was recently shown to lower triglycerides in obese patients. And Verdure Sciences says that a very recent animal study by University of California–Los Angeles researchers showed that a low dose of the company’s Longvida curcumin reversed some of the cognitive impairments caused by tau protein tangles.
“Curcumin may be the most therapeutic herb in modern use, and it is important to make sure that the forms used are pure, absorbable, and clinically studied,” says Terry Lemerond, president and founder of curcumin marketer EuroPharma.
Globally, protein-rich products are hot. In the United States, the number of high-protein product launches is three times higher than anywhere else in the world, according to a new report from Mintel.
Consumers are looking for more protein, agrees Vikki Nicholson, senior vice president, global marketing, U.S. Dairy Export Council. She cites The NPD Group’s Functional Foods and Beverages (August 2012) report, which says that 56% of U.S. adults and 59% of U.S. teens rank adding more protein to their diet as very or somewhat important.
The drive to create high-protein food and beverage options is especially high in snacks, fortified drinks, and spoonable yogurts. “In the last 10 to 15 years, proteins have mainly been marketed in the form of supplements. But there is increasing demand for convenient ways to consume protein,” says UK dairy protein supplier Volac in its January report forecasting overall company growth in 2013.
Protein suppliers are innovating. Archer Daniels Midland (Decatur, IL) has made great strides with its Clarisoy line of soluble soy proteins. Clarisoy 100 works in low-pH drinks like fruit juices while remaining transparent, and Clarisoy 150 is very stable—and heat stable—for neutral pH beverages.
Last fall, whey protein specialist Arla Foods Ingredients (Viby J, Denmark) introduced Lacprodan DI-7017, a “new generation” pure whey protein concentrate that is stable in ultra-high temperature (UHT) formulations at neutral pH. The firm says this is a market first because whey protein is otherwise notoriously difficult to incorporate in the UHT processes used to make clinical nutrition beverages with a long shelf life. As a result, prior to Lacprodan DI-7017, manufacturers have had to fall back on alternative proteins such as casein.
“We are moving away from seeing whey protein as a basic commodity and instead we are developing differentiated ingredients that offer added value,” says Jack Egelund Madsen, business development manager.