Consumers are taking a more holistic view of health, wellness and nutrition. They don’t want to take another pill. They increasingly shun chemicals and artificial ingredients. Instead, they want the foods they eat to keep them healthy.
“Many of the food, health and nutrition industry trends we’re seeing today are driven by consumers who have a passion for having a healthy lifestyle. They are looking for products that provide added functional benefit and claim substantiation to address their specific health needs,” Sherry Duff, senior vice president and chief marketing and technology officer for ingredients company Innophos wrote in an e-mail to Food Dive.
“Besides overall health and wellness benefits, consumers want products that support energized aging and have clean labels — that is, foods made with recognizable ingredients that they can actually pronounce. Specifically, they’re looking for products that help with digestive health, cognitive health, anti-inflammation, immune health, cardiovascular health, weight management, muscle gain, mineral fortification and beauty benefits,” continued Duff.
Rising healthcare costs and an aging population with plenty of spending power are other factors driving interest in functional foods. Consequently, the demand for functional foods — and the ingredients that go into making better-for-you products — is poised for healthy growth.
The global functional foods market size was estimated at $129 billion in 2014, according to Grand View Research. With a 7.9% compound annual growth rate projected for the foreseeable future, the size of the market worldwide is on pace to nearly double in a decade’s time, to $255 billion by 2024. The research firm projects the U.S. functional foods market will reach $62 billion by 2024, up from $29 billion in 2014.
But what makes a food product functional? Here are five of the most common and high-growth ingredients, some of their uses and their associated health benefits.
One of the most common functional ingredients is protein. It is naturally found in foods including meat, eggs and tofu. These have all been eaten for hundreds of years, and have been extensively researched.
“We now know that proteins are built up from 20 different amino acids — of which 9 of these amino acids are essential, meaning that they can’t be made by the body and must come from food,” Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager at ingredients maker Ingredion wrote in an e-mail to Food Dive. “The remaining 11 amino acids are non-essential, meaning they can be made by the body. So when evaluating proteins for food, formulators must consider the amino acid profile of the protein source.”
Proteins help manage or even prevent chronic diseases, address obesity issues, and help build muscle mass as well as address muscle loss. In fact, proteins provide the amino acids needed to facilitate healing of micro muscle fiber tears that occur during exercise — a key reason why protein powders, shakes and bars are often associated with sports nutrition.
Proteins have experienced substantial recent growth, marked by an unprecedented increase in consumers’ perceived deficiency of the nutrient, and growing awareness and use of plant-based proteins. Because food ingredient companies can obtain protein from several readily available sources — such as whey, vegetables and eggs — there has been an increasing proliferation of protein-rich and protein-enriched products across many food and beverage categories. These include nutritional bars and shakes, yogurt, ready-to-drink beverages and protein powders.
"The desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and concerns about sustainability are putting the spotlight on plant proteins as a functional ingredient."
Senior vice president and chief marketing and technology officer, Innophos
“Increasingly the desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins as a functional ingredient,” wrote Duff. Consumer notions of what constitutes a good protein source are expanding to include a wider variety of plant-based protein ingredients — among them soy, canola and nuts.
Protein pulses made from combinations of beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are growing in popularity because they also provide plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Ingredion is bullish on new product formulations utilizing new “clean-taste” protein pulse applications. For most of these, protein use was previously limited because of beany, grassy or other undesirable flavors.
This flavor improvement, coupled with overall nutritional quality and functionality, enables food manufacturers to use more protein-rich ingredients in applications such as pasta, snacks and bakery products. They can also be applied to new applications, including alternative dairy, beverages and confectionery items. New clean-taste pulse ingredients, developed by Ingredion and AGT Foods, were recently awarded a 2017 IFT Food Expo Innovation Award.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Use of probiotics and prebiotics are expected to grow significantly in future years due to their excellent properties in relieving digestive issues, boosting the immune system, and contributing to the maintenance of balanced gut microbiota, or "good" bacteria. BCC Research projects the probiotics market will grow to $50 billion globally by 2020.
Consumer awareness of probiotics has increased dramatically during the past decade — thanks in part to huge advertising campaigns from the likes of Danone’s Activia (recall the deluge of Jamie Lee Curtis commercials) and other yogurt brands. Although yogurt still leads the probiotics market, other probiotic-containing products — including juices, confectionery items, baked goods, and even wine and beer — are gaining popularity.
Kellogg, which has historically promoted its Special K brand to help with weight loss, recently announced it is adding probiotics to the cereal and positioning it as a health tool. Special K Nourish featuring probiotics is due to hit store shelves later this year.
Duff expects fermented drinks made with probiotic kombucha will grow in popularity due to their myriad health benefits. In addition to improved digestion, the drink is known to fight overgrowth of candida, a harmful yeast, and help with mental clarity and mood stability. Some claim it can relieve or prevent a host of other issues from hair loss to cancer to AIDS. The kombucha market increased nearly 441% to $534 million in 2016, according to Beverage Industry.
Kombucha has even caught PepsiCo’s attention. Last year, the company’s venture arm Naked Emerging Brands, which is tasked with diversifying the product portfolio with better-for-you options, completed its first acquisition: probiotics beverage manufacturer KeVita. PepsiCo had already shown interest in probiotics with the debut of Tropicana Essentials Probiotics.
In contrast, prebiotics, which allow for better absorption of a host of nutrients from other foods, are still somewhat flying under the radar. However, research suggests that there may be a natural prebiotic in the skin of cranberries, and cereal made with a fiber-rich barley variety may also have a prebiotic effect.
Clinically studied functional botanicals are in demand and attracting significant attention from consumers because of the wide range of health properties they deliver. These include boosting energy, increasing immune function, improving skin health, increasing focus and memory, boosting testosterone levels and providing relaxation.
Botanical extracts with high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, such as turmeric and cranberry seed extract, are known to promote recovery from onset muscle soreness. This is associated with muscle pain, decreased range of motion, muscle fiber disruption, decreased strength and tissue damage. Among the many ingredients Innophos offers is CranSmart whole cranberry extract, which is known for preventing urinary tract infections.
“Turmeric-based functional ingredients, while often priced at a premium, have superior bioavailablilty and absorption since they are delivered in the body together [with] specific substrates/carriers or using polymeric technology to target rapid absorption in blood,” wrote Duff. “These special function ingredients come with traceability from farm to factory, are non-GMO, and are organically cultivated with good agricultural practices.”
Duff expects to see more product launches with botanical extracts in the performance beverage segment as herbal and botanical extracts with proven efficacy are widely accepted — especially more wellness beverages that include cranberry extracts and tea polyphenols. These could include vegetable drinks made with alfalfa and green leafy vegetable blends; and meal replacement beverages that contain botanical blends, berry extracts, pea and other vegetable protein blends.
Minerals found in food deliver a range of different functions to benefit the body’s growth and health. There are two kinds of minerals that are typically added to food and beverages: macrominerals and trace minerals.
Macrominerals — which include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride — are minerals your body needs in large amounts. Grand View Research senior research analyst Harsha Jandhyala told Food Dive that the most commonly added minerals to food and drink products are magnesium and phosphorus.
Magnesium aids more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal nerve, memory and muscle function; supports a healthy immune system; maintains a steady heartbeat; and keeps bones strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids in the production of energy and protein. Phosphorus is needed for bone health as well as for energy production and storage.
On the other hand, the body only needs small amounts of trace minerals — which include iron, copper, iodine, zinc, fluoride, chromium and selenium. Zinc helps the body's immune system function properly and plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing and the breakdown of carbohydrates.
Energy drinks, such as Gatorade, are good long-standing examples of mineral-enriched beverage items. In addition to the basics of hydration, mineral water is an excellent source of bone-strengthening calcium, magnesium and other minerals. Many bottled water makers have added minerals to their products in recent years.
“Adding calcium to Tropicana orange juice, with other juices now following suit, is an example of enhancing an everyday product in such a way that consumers feel safe and understand what it is and the related bone health benefits,” Jandhyala said.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are the fatty acid ingredients most consumers think of first. Fish and fish oils have been highly promoted as containing “good fats” — the fatty acids that provide heart health benefits, including keeping cholesterol levels in check and actually lowering LDL, or "bad cholesterol."
But more recently, a new breed of good fatty acids from avocados and other unsaturated oil sources have become popular. These include olive oil, sesame oil and some nut oils — like walnut, pecan and macadamia. There have been plenty of recent product launches in snacks, baked goods and condiments made with these “better-for-you” oils.
A recent Tufts University study is likely to enhance avocado's already well-established nutritional reputation, since it suggests additional benefits for human eye and brain health too. The research findings indicate a balanced diet that includes fresh avocados may be an effective strategy for cognitive health.
Avocado's health benefits stem from a high level of monounsatured fat, plus significant amounts of potassium, fiber, folate and other essential vitamins and minerals. In addition to oil, avocados star in an increasing array of trendy foods from guacamole and salads to avocado toast and even ice cream.
A similar up-and-coming ingredient to keep an eye on is ghee, which is butter with dairy solids removed. It's high in vitamins A, E and K2, and contains short-chain fatty acids. Ghee’s origins date back more than 3,000 years with its roots in Ayurvedic medicine practiced by sages in India. Known to aid in proper digestion and the absorption of nutrients, the ingredient can currently be found in some specialty brands like 4th & Heart Ghee Butter and Tin Star Foods Brown Butter Ghee.