Functional Foods and Beverages

October 16, 2007
Daniel Schatzman

Health-minded consumers are increasingly turning to functional foods and beverages. According to a new report from Datamonitor (London), 65% of Americans and Europeans are taking active steps to eat healthier. These steps include not only the avoidance of excess calories, fat, sugar, and salt, but also the pursuit of nutrient-rich foods that may improve their well-being.

Health-minded consumers are increasingly turning to functional foods and beverages. According to a new report from Datamonitor (London), 65% of Americans and Europeans are taking active steps to eat healthier. These steps include not only the avoidance of excess calories, fat, sugar, and salt, but also the pursuit of nutrient-rich foods that may improve their well-being.

"With 65% of U.S. and European consumers taking more active steps to eat healthfully in 2006, better-for-you food and drink options are being consumed on a more regular basis," says Datamonitor consumer analyst Michael Hughes.

At this year's Institute of Food Technologists (IFT; Chicago) Annual Meeting and Food Expo, held July 28–August 1 in Chicago, functional foods made a strong showing. In fact, two functional food ingredients-Biothera Inc.'s (Eagan, MN) Wellmune WGP and Dow Wolff Cellulosic's (Midland, MI) Fortefiber-garnered two of the show's first-ever Food Innovation Awards.

The excitement surrounding functional foods didn't end with the awards, however. Many companies introduced ingredients for functional foods and beverages at the show. ADM (Decatur, IL), for instance, drew visitors to its booth by offering crepes made with Kansas Diamond white whole-wheat flour, and Fortitech (Schenectady, NY) amazed attendees with weight-management popcorn enriched with vitamins and minerals, CLA, and green-tea extract. Judging by the sheer number of novel offerings, consumers may have a seemingly endless supply of new functional foods and beverages to choose from in 2008.

IMMUNE ENHANCER

Biothera's Wellmune WGP, an immune-enhancing polysaccharide, took home one of six coveted Food Innovation Awards handed out by a distinguished panel of IFT judges. Backed by more than a dozen published, peer-reviewed studies and protected by more than 40 U.S. patents and patents pending, the ingredient stimulates immune cells to fend off foreign organisms.

"We are honored to be selected from so many outstanding and innovative food ingredients," says Biothera president and CEO Richard Mueller. "We believe this award reflects the significant technology investment in Wellmune WGP as well as its potential to become the premier immune-enhancement ingredient in the food and beverage industry."

Wellmune WGP has several properties that may make it an attractive ingredient for functional-food manufacturers. In addition to being generally recognized as safe (GRAS), it's also kosher and free of allergens and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Moreover, the ingredient, which is distributed in the United States by E.T. Horn (La Mirada, CA), is said to have a pleasant taste and comes as either a soluble or insoluble powder.

"Wellmune WGP meets the growing demand from food manufacturers and consumers for natural ingredients with real immune health benefits that are backed by credible science and safe for daily consumption," Mueller adds. "A number of major food and beverage companies in the United States and worldwide have already expressed significant interest in our technology and Wellmune WGP."

BEVERAGE STICKS

Health-conscious consumers who prize convenience and portability should be interested in new high-fiber beverage sticks developed by Cargill Health and Food Technologies (Minneapolis). At IFT, Cargill exhibited beverage stick prototypes enriched with calcium and Oliggo-Fiber inulin, which promotes calcium absorption, to promote bone health. The sticks, which dissolve instantly in 8 fl oz of water, can be flavored or unflavored.

According to Christine Cerkvenik, Cargill's product manager for Oliggo-Fiber, the sticks fit easily into backpacks or purses, making them perfect for on-the-go consumers.

"They are a great example of how Cargill works with customers to create nutritional solutions that fit today's lifestyles," Cerkvenik says, adding that studies have shown that 8 g of inulin per day can improve bone health among preteens and women. "Cargill's new instant beverage sticks are particularly good news for food manufacturers looking to address consumer concerns about building and maintaining healthy bones," she says.

DHA AND EPA

Omega-3 fatty acids already are among the most popular functional food ingredients and were featured in more than 250 retail products in 2006, according to market research from Mintel (London). At IFT, the omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) continued to dominate the healthy food and beverage category, with suppliers such as Martek Biosciences (Columbia, MD) and Ocean Nutrition (Dartmouth, NS, Canada) both announcing the rollouts of new retail products containing their ingredients.

One of the newest omega-3 ingredients is Omevital 1812 Gold, a neutral-tasting GRAS EPA/DHA oil developed by Cognis Nutrition and Health's (La Grange, IL) Napro Pharma (Brattvaag, Norway) subsidiary for spreads, refrigerated beverages, and other applications.

"Cognis is pleased to offer manufacturers an omega-3 ingredient with an extremely clean sensory profile," says Cognis vice president Dave Eckert. "Cognis Omevital raises the bar for quality, thanks to its outstanding purity, resulting from state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, with each lot thoroughly analyzed for contaminants."

According to Eckert, Cognis plans to support the worldwide launch of Omevital with retail copromotional strategies that raise the ingredient's profile.

"As more popular brands carry products with omega-3s, consumer awareness will continue to escalate," Eckert predicts. "Consumers recognize that they don't consume enough omega-3 in their daily diets to obtain the health benefits they are learning about in the media and from health professionals. This realization will drive consumer demand."

Derived from salvia oil, another omega-3 ingredient, Frutarom's (North Bergen, NJ) Alina, also has a clean sensory profile. Alina contains more than 50% alpha-linoleic acid and remains stable throughout pasteurization and baking processes. Moreover, the ingredient is also GRAS for use in baked goods, dairy products, cereals, and beverages. According to Frutarom, Alina is more stable than many other vegetarian sources of omega-3.

"Facts like these demonstrate Alina's proven ability to increase market success and translate into new opportunities for our customers," says Frutarom technical business manager Jennifer Czerner. "Our technical and marketing team is ready to work with existing and new customers, from assisting in formulation development to creating the marketing message strategy and identifying cobranding options."

SOLUBLE DIETARY FIBER

Dow Wolff Cellulosics entered the field of functional foods this year with Fortefiber, a soluble, cellulose-derived ingredient that may help control cholesterol, insulin, and glucose. The GRAS, GMO-free fiber is available in two standard grades as well as custom formulations that can be added to a range of foods, such as energy bars, cookies, candies, and supplements.

Because Fortefiber is nonfermentable, it doesn't cause gas or bloating when used in normal amounts. The ingredient also helps to stabilize emulsions, suspend liquids, retain water, and increase baking volume. The IFT judges who gave it a Food Innovation Award were also impressed with the research that Dow put into the product, including its development of a validated analytical method for determining a food's fiber content.

"Receiving one of the first IFT Food Expo Innovation Awards is a great accomplishment for Fortefiber and the Dow Wolff Cellulosics business," says Dow Wolf Cellulosics general manager Martin Sontag. "It is an honor to be recognized within the food market, especially for a new line of products that support a healthy lifestyle."

"Since its launch in November 2006, Fortefiber has been included in a growing variety of food and nutritional supplement products," adds Fortefiber global manager Eric Workman. "Manufacturers have recognized that its distinct combination of functional and health benefits enables them to address consumer demand for increased fiber content."

SNACKING TECHNOLOGIES

While chocolate is still the candy of choice for many consumers, some manufacturers are chewing over other snack foods made with different ingredients. According to a new report from the market research firm Packaged Facts (New York City), the market for healthy, chocolate-free snacks could reach $10.6 billion by 2011.

Several trends are behind the demand. Nearly 90% of children consume candy other than chocolate, according to the report. Meanwhile, baby boomers are exploring other options like single-serve, organic, functional, or fortified treats.

At this year's IFT show, Kerry Ingredients (Beloit, WI) unveiled new clustering technology that enables manufacturers to create portion-controlled, granola-like snacks. Show attendees who sampled Kerry's Caramel Calorie Counters, for instance, discovered clustered snack prototypes made from low-trans toasted oats, rice and oat crisps, and dry-roasted Solnut soybeans.

"This new development in clustering technology is at the final stage of pilot testing," says Keith Parle, director of sales and marketing for Kerry's cereal business unit. "It presents an unmatched assortment of snack product options at a time when consumer demand for convenient, on-the-go, healthy snacking is gaining momentum."

Kerry also displayed other snack prototypes, including fruit and vegetable crisps made using hot-extrusion technology, as well as a high-protein pea crisp. The former contain up to 30% fruit and vegetable solids-enough for content claims-while the latter offers more than 70% pea protein.

TEXTURIZERS

Taste is a primary concern of most functional beverage manufacturers, but texture is also important. The right texture can make a beverage seem rich and creamy, or it can help eliminate the graininess of fiber-enriched drinks.

National Starch Food Innovation (Bridgewater, NJ), which recently announced that it plans to build a new Texture Center of Excellence at its corporate headquarters, offered several innovative textured beverage prototypes at IFT, including a mango-passionfruit smoothie made with Nutriose and Instant Textaid-A.

Derived from high-fiber dextrin, Nutriose is a soluble fiber that also preserves taste and enhances shelf life. Textaid-A is a pregelatinized starch that mimics the texture of fruit pulp.

National Starch marketing director Marshall Fong says the company has focused nearly a quarter of its technical resources on texture-related projects.

"We have literally hundreds of proven texture ingredients, from our long-standing Textra line of products, which can restore the full-fat textures in nonfat and lowfat milks and give low-calorie beverages a full-bodied mouth coating; to our Homecraft line of wholesome, consumer-friendly ingredients, which deliver textures expected in home-cooked–style meals; to our brand- new N-Dulge dairy texturizers, which provide an amazing range of texture versatility, ease of use, and cost effectiveness," says Fong.

"Our dedicated food formulation teams not only have the collective experience of dealing with thousands of customers around the globe across all applications, but they are also guided by our science-based approach to the understanding of ingredients and ingredient systems."

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN 2008

Many of the new offerings at this year's IFT suggest that specialty fibers, fats, and manufacturing technologies will continue to play a leading role behind the development of functional foods. Other ingredients, however, are also likely to keep the focus on health. The recent Datamonitor report, for instance, predicts that so-called superfoods like acai and goji berries, as well as other ingredients rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, should perform well in the years to come. Moreover, interest among major food and beverage producers in healthy ingredients is high, as the May announcement that Coca-Cola (Atlanta) and Cargill were teaming up to develop a stevia-sweetened beverage attests. Look for plenty of excitement on this front in 2008 and beyond.

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