Functional Foods: Key Trends

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What type of healthy functional products are consumers demanding?

By Sarah Medina

Imagine taste, function, and nutrition all rolled up into one product-that is what consumers are demanding nowadays. No longer are we just buying juice; rather, we are choosing juice that is natural and contain vitamins and minerals. Simply put, we have come to realize the effects of diet on our health and are actively seeking functional food products that enhance our health beyond basic nutritional needs.

What type of healthy functional products are consumers demanding? As with all successful food and beverage products, taste is the top priority for manufacturers-and one that cannot be compromised. Quite often, food and beverage manufacturers struggle to incorporate function and nutrition without negatively affecting taste. However, food science is constantly evolving, and for the past decade, we have seen an unprecedented number of new product innovations, particularly in the area of functional beverages. Beyond taste, global nutrition business researcher and publisher New Nutrition Business has identified the ten key healthy functional products trends leading the market:

1.     Digestive Health: A Mega-Trend Moves Beyond the Tipping Point

Topping the list is digestive health, which isn’t surprising, given the marketing blitz featuring prebiotics, probiotics, and fiber. Despite a recessionary climate, the cash register continues to get a workout as it registers escalating sales for products that help consumers achieve excellent digestive health.

2.     Convenience

We’ve seen many beverages claim to have health benefits or to provide some sort of functional value. But the major reason for their strong growth may likely be their convenience to consumers. The ability to get healthy benefits in a conveniently-sized beverage, on the go, is very appealing to consumers, particularly those with fast-paced lifestyles.

3.     Feel the Benefit

When people can feel the benefits that functional foods and beverages offer them, they can see that they are getting value for their money. Consumers are able to measure the benefit of fiber-fortified or probiotic products quickly by experiencing improvements to their digestive health, for instance.

4.     EnergyTrend Continues Its Upward Trajectory

The “energy” trend is ranked as the fourth-most-significant key trend. Energy drinks are typically attractive to young people, with the energy drink market in the United States worth more than $6 billion and growing at 10% annually. Teenagers and young adults count on the shot of energy derived from popular energy drinks, but the market also attracts multitasking executives, time-pressed parents, and anyone looking for a kick to jumpstart a sleepy afternoon.

5.     Fruits and SuperfruitsDrive Functional Food Trend

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is the idea behind the fifth-most-significant functional food trend, which focuses on fruits and superfruits, a marketing-derived term created by the food and beverage industry about five years ago. The healthy halo that surrounds fruits focuses on their innate health benefits and the role of powerful superfruits, which areforecast to become a $10 billion global industry by 2011.The term superfruit refers to a fruit that combines antioxidants with high nutrient value and appealing taste and is applied to a wide variety of fruits, including mango, blueberry, cranberry, grape, and pomegrante.

6.     Antioxidants Become a Primary Wellness Ingredient

“High in antioxidants” is a ubiquitous marketing message featured by scores of drinks, foods, and supplements. Ranking sixth on the functional food list, antioxidants have become a primary wellness ingredient touted to improve heart health, mood, and beauty. Researchers indicate, however, that the antioxidant message has an increasingly limited effect in increasing sales.

7.     Weight-Management Trend Broadens As Obesity Rates Rise

A new study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation indicates that three out of four Americans will be overweight by 2020 unless comprehensive measures are taken to fight the obesity epidemic. As rising obesity rates climb in the United States and globally, it is no surprise that weight management was the sixth-most-significant food trend focusing on satiety, calorie-burning, and fat-burning ingredient properties.

8.     Healthy Snacking Fuels Metabolism

Healthy snacking can complement a weight-loss plan and is a convenient way to satisfy hunger while getting the vitamins and nutrients one’s body needs. “A focus on building markets for new snack concepts rather than simply following on with predictable products has already led to the creation of some innovative snacking concepts,” says Julian Mellentin, the author of the New Nutrition report and coauthor of The Functional Foods Revolution: Healthy People, Healthy Profits?and Commercializing Innovation: The Food & Health Marketing Handbook.

9.     Looks Matter: Packaging

Packaging innovation is key to attracting and retaining loyal consumers to food and health-product innovations. “Companies [that] target the niches of the most-health-conscious consumers find loyal consumers with [the] high levels of repeat purchase–80% repeat-purchase rates are common,” says Mellentin. “Brands targeted at the most-health-conscious niches have thrived, even in recession, even in very price-sensitive markets, even at premium prices.”

10.  Bones and Movement

As the population of people over the age of 40 grows exponentially, the bones and movement category is gathering momentum. An increasing number of people are turning to products that support joint and bone health.

A Promising Future

Just ask yourself, are you more aware of what you eat than you were, let’s say, a year ago? We will most likely continue to see strong demand for functional foods and beverages for years to come.

In addition, functional protein products continue to gain market share in the sports nutrition market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it follow closely behind the success of digestive health products in the near future.

Taste is definitely a priority for consumers, but with the growth and increasing awareness of health and wellness, people are searching for foods and beverages that go beyond our basic nutritional needs. The food industry constantly evolves and introduces new products that acknowledge concerns including obesity and weight management. Since the food industry evolves and trends do change, it is important for manufacturers to identify, incorporate, and balance what the consumer wants and what is required for healthy living.

The world population is growing, the food supply shrinking, water supplies becoming more limited, and food production competing for land with housing and the production of fuel crops. In the coming decades, as global agriculture faces the prospect of a changing climate and the challenge of feeding the world's growing population, renewable plant protein may be part of the solution to deliver food to regions vulnerable to food deficits

About the Author:
Sarah Medina is a research associate at Burcon NutraScience Corp. (, a developer of functional, renewable plant proteins. She can be reached at

*Source: New Nutrition Business, vol. 15, no. 8, June 2010