Celebrating the Functional Foods Era

Functional foods market continues to have an interesting record. The market today boasts several categories of health promoting foods such as:
  • Fortified with essential nutrients
  • Enriched with essential nutrients
  • With added bioactive components
  • Low in non-beneficial nutrients
  • Devoid of non-beneficial nutrients
  • Devoid of harmful components that are formed during processing 
  • Devoid of common allergens
  • Minimally processed
  • Natural
  • Organic
This market has evolved from catering to nutritional requirements of consumers to addressing specific health benefits. Some examples include food products positioned for heart health, cognitive health, digestive health and aiding weight management. One of the main factors that have propelled consumers to take more personalized interest & control on health is the increasing healthcare expenditure across the globe. Thus preventive health care through functional foods has moved being a concept to practice. Figure 1.1 presents the unsustainable healthcare spending which is promoting preventive nutrition.
Consumer Trend Favours & Fuels Innovation
Lifestyle has a significant role in the changing food consumption patterns of consumers. Lack of time, stress and higher disposable income has harmed the population in many ways. And each of these factors is a part of a vicious cycle, pivoted around consumerism. Today, Lifestyle disorders are becoming more common than flu & cold and the affluent younger population, compete with senior citizens on health complaints. The alarm has been raised and many consumers are concerned about the quality of the food they eat in terms of benefits offered. The demand for healthy foods that are low in salt, low or zero calories, rich in proteins, and with specific health claims are increasing. 
Convenience has also become an integral part of food delivery systems today. Though many initiatives such as 5-A-Day Health Program has helped increase awareness of ingredients antioxidants & fibers present in fruits & vegetables, the overall execution is challenged due to lack of convenience. Convenience lies in the delivery of appropriate health ingredients in formats that are familiar and/or easy to use for the consumer. 
Advances in microencapsulation technology, packaging technology and other processing technology have significantly supported innovations that drive convenience. For example, the delivery of Omega-3 fatty acids to infants and children used to be through capsules and soft-gels, which were not always easy to administer. Today encapsulated Omega-3 FAs incorporated into infant formula are quite popular in developed economies of the west and are fast catching up in Asia as well. 
The unified factor that has not changed and not expected to change in near future is the demand for tasty food! Consumers expect healthy foods to taste good as well. Taste profile figures in the research and development activities of many new ingredients. For example, taste profile issues have plagued the use of soy proteins in the industry until recently. Many new technologies including flavor masking and processing technologies have emerged that successfully minimized the beany flavor of soy. Today, soy proteins are on par with dairy proteins in several applications. Soy proteins now compete with dairy proteins in all format and product types for similar applications and are jostling for supremacy in the market place. 
Another important trend is the preference of simpler and natural ingredients in place of synthetic ingredients. Natural vitamin E, rosemary extracts, green tea extracts and blends of various herbal extracts are gradually replacing synthetic preservatives in many processed foods. The hot spot that stevia sweeteners enjoy today is mainly due to the natural tag attached to it. With greater developments in processing technology the ease and rate of penetration of natural in place of synthetic ingredients is expected to be higher in the near future.
Sourcing Grounds
For most herbal ingredients, Asia remains a hotspot for sourcing and knowledge. Traditional knowledge is being quickly catalogued by the governments of nations across the globe due to the international regime in Intellectual Property protection. Regions and countries that Produce /Manufacture certain ingredients create a bench mark over a period of time. This is because of the availability of raw materials in certain countries which acted as an advantage. For example, spices have traditionally been dominated by India and Indonesia, Coffee by Brazil, Tea by China and Oregano and Rosemary by Europe. Ingredients based on these plants are naturally cheaper to source from the respective countries. Ideas for new applications for these ingredients may also be derived from the traditional knowledge surrounding these plants. What needs to be evaluated, keeping in mind the local populations acceptance of the functionality of these plants, is if they will also be markets for the value added derivatives of these plants.
Promising Ingredients
In terms of potential it would be incautious to comment on the prospects of ingredients based on current market size. Some key parameters that can be used as indicators of prospects of an ingredient are as follows:
  • R&D Investment
  • Research Profile
  • Health Claim - Regulatory
  • Health Positioning
  • Application Profile
  • Consumer Awareness
  • New Product Introduction
  • Consumer Marketing
  • Current Market Size
  • Sustainability
Of all functional ingredients, Omega-3 fatty acids have witnessed highest success in the recent years. Omega 3 ingredients target the right consumer group – infants, aging baby boomers and elderly population. Technology advances have also made their incorporation into foods of varying nature easy. For example, today they are found in fortified eggs, bread, infant formula, milk and fruit juices.
Probiotics are considered benchmark in the digestive health domain. Prebiotics / fiber closely follow the growth pattern of probiotics. Superfruit extracts and many herbal extracts & botanicals have taken a generic antioxidant positioning. This has created many avenues of health positioning for these ingredients as antioxidant defense system forms the basic principle of enhancement & maintenance of good health. 
The trend toward nutrition and wellness is clearly driving the market for functional ingredients in food & beverage markets. The significance of science and research is expected to grow as the human population gets increasingly victimised to lifestyle disorders. The food industry is presently in an interesting junction where science meets every aspect of commerce. The signs of developments are positive and the technology is channelized in the right direction. 
Sumber : Sangeetha Srinivasan

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