Science vs simplicity
There is no doubt that driven by increased consumer health awareness, the functional foods category has enjoyed impressive growth. According to a report by Research and Markets further driving factors include an expanding and ever ageing population, urbanization, more disposable income in developing countries and improved ingredient quality. But can we expect to see this growth continue?
Analysts are predicting growth at a rate of 5.2-7.2% over the next 4 years with phytochemicals & plant extracts proving to be the most adopted ingredients with the highest projected growth rate. In regions such as North America and Europe consumers are turning towards plant products and prefer consuming bioactive ingredients derived from plants, but there is some talk of this growth rate beginning to level out. But what factors might contribute to this potential levelling?
There are many ways in which functional foods can come undone. One in particular is when a list of health ingredients is stitched together into a single product that fails to make a single unified healthy proposition. When a product begins to resemble an abomination of nature or a cocktail from a medicine cabinet, consumers automatically begin to switch off despite the functional health benefits on offer. This emphasis on engineered formulation removes a product from an easy to recognise natural form and thereby removes it from being either healthy or food in the eyes of the consumer. This is further exacerbated in how some functional foods are marketed, often kept separate from ‘real food’ in supermarkets and on occasions even displayed on medicine isles.
Weight management products, being foods formulated for the function of weight loss, is one area in which consumer tastes have certainly changed with the iconic Slim-Fast brand being sold by Unilever to Kainos Capital, having purchased it fourteen years previous for $2.3bn (read more). Despite weight loss being a concern for many consumers, these artificial concoctions have lost their market appeal. Modern health conscious consumers have become much more nutritionally aware than to buy into products like Special K biscuits containing “only 98 calories!” of processed carbs, soy and synthetic ingredients. They are also becoming more aware that true health benefits come about through long term changes in diet and not quick fix solutions. Describing this as a ‘recessive trend’, Peter Wennstrom, President & Expert Consultant, The HealthyMarketingTeam, said:
One extreme example of Frankenstein food is the emerging meal drink concept. Soylent is a meal drink designed as a ‘nutritionally perfect’ replacement for solid food. The drink is significantly more sustainable to produce than sourcing the same nutrients via traditional methods. It has also attracted the attention of the US Military and NASA who are currently testing it, not to mention large investors and even competition from companies such as Nestlé who recently revealed plans of a Nespresso-like meal drink system. This concept of formulated meal drinks might be sparking interest in those with hopes of future potential, but for your average consumer the concept of being fed corporate owned sludge is the stuff of nightmares, not too dissimilar to those explored in 1970s sci-fi film ‘Soylent Green’. However, it is worth noting that several reports have predicted exponential growth in the sports nutrition market over the next three years. Given that powdered nutritional shakes are a staple in this category it is not unthinkable that, as sports nutrition migrates into the mainstream, consumer tastes could change and become more accustomed to accept powdered foods as part of a long term diet solution.
Matching benefit to proposition
Mismatching a health benefit with the the overall proposition is a common reason for a product misfire. A fruit drink with added vitamin C or milkshake with added calcium is plausible to your average consumer, but when presented with yoghurt that contains added omega-3 there is a perceived mismatch. Such mismatches are much less likely to occur the closer a food product is to a natural form. For example a product such as protein bar containing almonds allows for a more simple and therefore compelling health proposition. Almonds contain 15 essential nutrients and are a natural source of protein and fibre. Just a handful of almonds (30g) provides approximately 65% of the daily requirement of vitamin E. Consumers know this with more than 80% of consumers rating almonds to be nutritious and a source of energy and protein. A product containing almonds could thereby promote its nutrient dense profile without there being a mismatch.
One product that exploits the natural health benefits of almonds as well as other nuts and dried fruit is Acti-Snack which we discovered at Natural & Organic Products 2014 where we spoke to Sales Manager, Ronan Gourley (view). This range of dried fruit and nut mixes was developed based on research highlighting that the active, health-conscious consumer is increasingly seeking snacking options that carry nutritional and physical benefits. A natural alternative to its synthetic counterparts, each Acti-Snack product is gluten free, and free from artificial additives and preservatives, instead maximising on the intrinsic values of each ingredient. Acti-Snack’s innovation is in how it targets the needs of modern active consumers by meeting nutritional objectives, such as delivering carbohydrates for fuel, a combination of proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates for endurance or protein for recovery with a simple natural product.
The Chia Pod is another natural food product developed for increasing consumer demand for clean labeled products made from highly nutritious ingredients including natural whole foods. The Chia Pod can be eaten as a breakfast or snack, providing a natural source of fibre, protein and omega-3 with no preservatives, fillers or artificial ingredients.
Founder and CEO of The Chia Co John Foss comments:
Enhancement without interference
Whilst synthetic ingredients, engineered formulation and bad processing have the potential reduce the appeal of a product in the health market, it is still possible for functional and natural to co-exist. The rise of the health market has allowed opportunity for greater investment into ingredient sourcing and processing that works with nature.
Over the 2 past decades Nexira has conducted several studies to demonstrate the health benefits of acacia fiber as a prebiotic soluble fiber for gut health. The acacia gum fiber is well accepted by end consumers with technical and nutritional properties that meet the increasing demand for healthy foods and ingredients.
Mathieu Dondain, Director of Marketing, Nexira, comments:
The growth of the natural and organic category means that companies can now invest more securely into processing that allows for natural ingredients to be made more convenient without compromise on taste, texture or nutritional profile. Established in New Zealand in 1973, Taura Natural Ingredients employ a processes known as URC (ultra rapid concentration) which removes water from fruit without the use of any chemical treatments whatsoever.
Peter Dehasque, CEO, Taura Natural Ingredients, explains:
Naturex, a company synonymous with their work in exploring the functional benefits of plant based ingredients, has invested a huge amount into the processing and production of fruit and vegetable powders. The group operates a 75 meter high structure known as the BIRS tower. This gigantic spray drying facility can create powders that offer clean label and maintain the organoleptic properties of original, freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. These powders can be incorporated into a wide variety of products enabling consumers to enjoy the health benefits of fruits and vegetables in a convenient way.
Frédéric Randet, Business Manager at Naturex, said: