Ingredients to Keep on Your Radar in 2012

February 8, 2012
Nutritional Outlook Staff

An update on where the market's top ingredients are headed.

SPINS provided the statistics for this story covering the period between October 30, 2010, and October 29, 2011. U.S. natural-channel data were tracked by SPINSscan Natural and exclude Whole Foods data. U.S. conventional food/drug/mass data were tracked by Nielsen Scantrack and exclude Wal-Mart data.

Spirulina

As of last fall, spirulina demonstrated 17.5% sales growth across natural and conventional channels, reaching nearly $10 million in combined sales. An upsurge in demand for natural, green products is a likely factor in spirulina’s nascent U.S. success, but credit should really go to the nutrition density of this blue-green algae. An unusually high level of protein (by weight) and high amounts of minerals (iron and manganese) and vitamins (A and K) lend to spirulina’s nickname, “nature’s multivitamin.”

Aside from the nutritional advantages spirulina adds to foods and beverages, the ingredient’s deep-green pigment may even offer natural coloring advantages.

The number of human clinical trials on spirulina is growing. A recent trial on 40 elderly patients supplementing with spirulina for 12 weeks left researchers to conclude that the ingredient might help support immune function markers and reduce the risk of anemia in older populations. Limited human studies suggest benefits on cholesterol and management of other lipids, too.

A positive safety review of spirulina dietary supplements, conducted by the U.S.  Pharmacopeia last August, complements a safety profile that is based on a history of long-term food use in Africa, Latin America, and other regions.

Stevia

Stevia’s expanding global use and popularity will make it industry’s most talked-about natural sweetener this year. While its development as a sweetener will pave the way for more-complete sugar replacements in the future of food and beverage manufacturing, stevia supplier PureCircle Ltd. (Chicago) tells us that combined stevia and sugar formulations and other recipes for reducing (but not completely eliminating) sugar remain the most viable options at this time.

Cranberry

As research on cranberry for urinary health mounts, so too does a need for scientific validation. The cranberry industry is responding to this demand by focusing research on proanthocyanidins (PACs), the cranberry compounds largely believed to help ward off urinary tract infections.

Citing doubts about currently available PAC testing methods, Ocean Spray’s Ingredient Technology Group (Lakeville-Middleboro, MA) announced plans to develop its own testing method. One senior employee at Ocean Spray ITG told Nutritional Outlook that focusing on the “scientific nature” of the cranberry is critical to meet the demands of health-conscious consumers as well as regulatory bodies, which he said “are putting manufacturers under increasing pressure to provide evidence to support the claims that are made about products.”

Cocoa

Perhaps predictably, researchers are finally figuring out ways in which chocolate might actually benefit the human body-if only consumed as its derivative cocoa. Numerous studies and meta-analyses support the notion that flavanol-rich cocoa may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, support healthy cholesterol levels, and aid cognitive functions, as well as provide a host of other benefits.

Need more convincing? Check out a detailed story we ran on cocoa in our September 2011 issue. Many food and beverage manufacturers are already convinced by available cocoa science, adding the sweet bean to nutrition bars, beverages, green formulas, and more.

Another reason for a resurgence of attention on cocoa may be a purchasing trend towards “sustainable” cocoa, according to Paul Altaffer of RFI Ingredients (Blauvelt, NY), a company specializing in the standardized cocoa extract Chocomine.

“As the market for cheap sweets has flattened, high-end chocolate is trending sharply, even in a down economy,” adds Altaffer. “This trend shows continued growth potential as more consumers learn how to consume premium cocoa-based products.”

Greens

Upon first look at the USDA’s new MyPlate system, which replaced the food pyramid last year, vegetables are getting more attention. But until consumers take it upon themselves to consume more whole veggies, the health foods industry will remain a critical source for much of a consumer’s daily needs.

“A lot of these ingredients are simple, everyday foods,” says Steve Siegel, vice president of Ecuadorian Rainforest (Belleville, NJ), which continues to expand its vegetable powder and juice ingredient lines. “We believe that even though they are everyday items, consumers do not have the time or find it convenient to eat them whole, daily. Therefore, consumers rely on supplements to fill in the missing nutritional pieces.”

And while many greens don’t hail from exotic locations, the complete remoteness of green variety (e.g., kale, barley grass, wheat grass) in many diets appears to be turning these local, economical ingredients into strangely exciting ingredients in their own right. Put them on your labels. The more, the better.

Probiotics

While probiotics continue battling numerous regulatory obstacles, there is one important area in which probiotics are winning handily: with consumers. SPINS reported huge double-digit growth of combined-channel probiotic supplement sales last year (29.5%, to nearly $196 million).

While changing regulations will stand to alter where and how probiotic products can be sold, “It does not appear that the regulatory challenges have hurt consumer demand-at least not yet,” says Michael Shahani, director of operations for Nebraska Cultures Inc. (Walnut Creek, CA).

Shaheen Majeed, marketing director, Sabinsa Corp. (East Windsor, NJ), says that in the United States, uncertainty over FDA’s new dietary ingredient (NDI) draft guidance “is not on consumers’ radars; it’s just an issue with suppliers and manufacturers at this point.” Nonetheless, probiotic stakeholders like the International Probiotics Association will continue seeking clarity on where probiotics stand in the guidance.

Other regulatory hot spots to keep an eye on are the European Commission’s health claims process, which has so far rejected probiotic claims; and Health Canada’s recently published probiotics monograph, which recognizes only a few probiotic strains. “We certainly hope that the Natural Health Products Directorate would approve more strains, especially since many of those strains have been used and sold in Canada safely and effectively for decades,” says Shahani.

Functional Fibers

Consumers clamored for fiber last year, and the food and beverage market responded. Lorraine Niba, business development manager of global nutrition for National Starch Food Innovation (Bridgewater, NJ), cites Mintel’s Global New Product Database, which reported the U.S. launches of more than 400 new products with a “high fiber” or “added fiber” claim last year. That’s a 28% increase over the year before.

With demand staring it in the face, how can the fiber industry push further this year? By continuing to explore the unique benefits that specific fibers can offer for both health and product formulation.

“We find that comparing different types of fiber-or lumping them together-can be misleading in terms of how they play out in supporting healthier living,” says Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager of nutrition for National Starch Food Innovation.

“The ingredients that get lumped into the category ‘fiber,’ including cellulose, beta-glucan from oats or barley, and fermentable fibers, all have very distinctive physiological interactions with the human body-to the point that a comparison becomes meaningless...” she says. “Scientists are taking a new look at how we talk about dietary fiber. The Institute of Medicine has recommended that the terms soluble and insoluble be discontinued, primarily because they do not exactly relate to how our bodies use fiber. Instead, researchers are classifying fibers based on their mechanism of action, which are responsible for specific health benefits.”

For formulation, benefits also depend on fiber type and purpose (e.g., bulking, viscosity, and fermentation). For instance, a fiber like inulin can mask its taste and texture, expanding product applications, says Deborah Schulz, product manager for Cargill Health & Nutrition (Minneapolis).

Look for the fiber market to mature-in a good way-beyond just whole grains, says Michael Bond, health platform leader for Dupont Nutrition & Health (Surrey, UK). Future interest areas include fibers such as inulin as fat replacers. Chia, too, has the same kind of ability as inulin to gel and thus replace fat, adds BI Nutraceuticals (Islandia, NY) food technologist Alison Raban. She says to also look for continued interest in ancient grains, pointing to quinoa, amaranth, and barley, to name a few.

Protein

Based on ingredients suppliers launched last year, 2012 could be the year that we see more protein-fortified, low-pH beverages (like acidic fruit juice) come to market.

“Low-pH beverages [is one] of the fastest-growing beverage categories,” says Courtney Kingery, marketing and customer development manager for ADM North American Oilseeds (Decatur, IL). “Beverage industry analysts project double-digit growth for fruit and vegetable juices through 2015.”

Until recently, there were few options for protein ingredients-both plant- and animal-derived-that could maintain solubility, stability, and transparency in low-pH drinks. But more companies are innovating, and just last year ADM introduced Clarisoy 100%-transparent soy protein, and Hilmar Ingredients (Hilmar, CA) launched whey protein isolate Hilmar 9420.

Kingery says a wide range of Clarisoy-containing ready-to-drink and powder beverage concepts, from various manufacturers, is in commercialization. Stay tuned.

Curcumin

Sales were good to curcumin supplements last year. (SPINS tracked almost 17% sales growth in combined channels.) And that growth isn’t over yet.

“The curcumin market has not reached its peak,” predicts Christian Artaria, marketing director and head of functional food development for Indena S.p.A. (Milan), which produces Meriva brand curcumin.

This year, competition for market share and raw material means that consumers and marketers alike should be careful when discriminating between competing claims-especially the bioavailability claims increasingly touted.

“Curcumin has come into focus in the supplement market in the last few years...because of significant research on anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous activity...” says Sabinsa’s Majeed, whose company has  patented curcumin extract Curcumin C3 Complex. “With increased competition, claims attempting to differentiate one product over another, such as ‘more-absorbable curcumin,’ became a key feature in marketing these products.”

Majeed advises marketers to independently verify bioavailability and efficacy claims, as many bioavailability studies supporting claims are performed by the ingredient suppliers themselves. (Also, he cautions that for bioavailability claims based on metabolites such as glucuronides, “the clinical efficacy of such metabolites is yet to be confirmed.”)

Artaria agrees, saying, “Some ingredients have great support, while others rely on borrowed science.”

Increased demand for raw material may also see some ingredient suppliers fighting over supply, but those with strong networks say they’re well prepared. Majeed cites Sabinsa’s cultivation programs and strong regional farmer partnerships as having the company ready “for the rapid growth in demand that is about to happen.”

Multivitamins “Plus”

While multivitamins are not a sole ingredient, this market category will be one to watch as a developing platform for introducing new ingredients to consumers.

“It is usually easier for the consumer to purchase a familiar product-a multivitamin-with a new ingredient,” says a representative interviewed from NBTY CapsuleWorks (Ronkonkoma, NY). “Once the customer is comfortable with a new ingredient, he or she may choose to buy a standalone version of the ingredient…”

This is not just a case of marketers using multivitamins to push new ingredients onto consumers; consumers want multivitamins that do more. “Contrary to what some believe, this is not a case of the tail wagging the dog,” says Paul Borrell, vice president of sales for Pharmachem Laboratories Inc. (Kearny, NJ). “Consumers have been demanding more optimal doses, more targeted ingredients, and more tailoring to their specific age groups, genders, and lifestyles.”

SPINS numbers show sales hikes for all kinds of specialty multivitamins, targeting support for everything from energy and beauty to immune health, mood, heart health, cognitive health, and more.

Stephanie Dreyer, brand manager for the One A Day franchise, says, “More recently, we’ve seen interest in multivitamins specifically designed with key benefits for further focused audiences such as One A Day Teen Advantage for Her supporting healthy skin, One A Day Teen Advantage for Him supporting healthy muscle function support, One A Day Menopause Formula [which] helps reduce hot flashes, and One A Day Men’s Pro Edge with physical energy support for active men.”

Centrum is another brand finding success in the specialized multivitamin category. The company recently launched its Centrum Specialist line for prenatal, vision, energy, and heart health.

“There really should be the best multi for everybody; as an industry, we owe it [to them],” says Borrell. “It’s still the biggest category, according to consumer data, and it will continue to grow as we all age.”

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