“The market demands much greater differentiation than it did in the past. Gone are the days when a single multi-vitamin tablet satisfied all consumers. We now have to offer functional foods with a specific health benefit to meet individual consumer needs. Examples include yoghurt with beauty vitamins for the skin or power drinks with selected minerals to boost mental performance,” said Jan Heuer, head of the SternVitamin business unit, which is part of the Stern-Wywiol group.
SternVitamin asserts that such targeted concepts create a win-win situation for both sides: Consumers get products that are tailored to their individual needs, and diversification offers manufacturers additional sales potential.
Worth the effort?
The counter argument to this is that with functional foods representing only a small part of the overall food market (less than 5% by most estimates), surely such products will be so niche they will hardly be worth the effort on the part of the manufacturer?
Not so, argues SternVitamin. “It depends on the function, the defined target group and the intention of the manufacturer. If you target a minority and just want to do something unique, it may be commercially not worth the effort but marketing wise it is a USP. If you target a majority with a concept like immunity, bone health, etc, it might be commercially interesting as well,” reasoned Heuer.
He gave several examples of dairy and lifestyle beverage products that had achieved commercial success with a highly targeted approach, including Danone Activia, Danone Actimel, Campina’s Optimel Control, Emmi’s Aloe Vera drink, and Venga Calorie Burn and Weight Burn drinks.
Asked whether product development in functional foods is becoming more about using EFSA's claims in a clever way than about innovation, Heuer answered: “It is sometimes a bit of a combination of both. It can be something already existing in a new shape. It can also be an innovation.”
Plant extracts trending
In terms of the active ingredients that are up and coming in functional foods, SternVitamin said that besides the classic vitamins, minerals and trace elements, plant extracts such as green tea, valerian, lavender, hop and mate are playing more of a starring role in concepts. It believes this is because today’s consumers are much better informed about nutrients and plant extracts.
“Vitamins and minerals will always be of central importance, but in conjunction with other substances like amino acids, plant extracts and other functional ingredients,” explained Dr Sabine Hildebrandt, head of research & development at SternVitamin.
Harnessing health claims
With a number of permissible claims for vitamins, minerals and trace elements, companies can use health claims as an effective marketing tool, said SternVitamin.
SternVitamin has developed a range of premixes for lifestyle drinks which are structured around making claims. For example, its ‘Brainpower’ mix, which balances vitamins, minerals and green tea extracts, can utilise three approved claims: ‘Iodine/zinc contributes to normal cognitive function’, ‘pantothenic acid contributes to normal mental performance’ and ‘vitamin C contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal function of blood vessels’.