A seminar, hosted by the Irish food board Bord Bia last month, revealed that the functional foods market presented good opportunity for Irish companies trying to differentiate their products in a competitive market.
Titled 'Health & Nutrition - Hearts & Minds', the seminar was designed to help Irish ingredients and functional food companies to develop a strategic approach for the future.
Presenting its independent research among major UK retailers, Bord Bia noted that the global market for functional foods is estimated to be worth up to €40 billion, depending on definitions, with the British market valued at around €1 billion. The Irish market is thought to be worth about €25 million at retail selling price.
Functional dairy products and cereals dominate the Irish market, with strong growth in the probiotic yoghurt drinks sector following high profile launches in the past two years.
Michael Duffy, chief executive of Bord Bia, said that there are two major factors driving growth in the health, nutrition and functional food market. Firstly, changing consumer lifestyles and a growing snacking culture mean less attention is being paid to regular meals. Consumers are now seeking convenient health food solutions, according to Duffy.
Secondly, manufacturers are constantly looking to add value to their products in very competitive food and drink markets. "For Irish companies to be competitive in today's crowded marketplace, they need to move up the value chain and to differentiate their products," Duffy said.
The Bord Bia team said that market research suggests the biggest opportunity for food manufacturers now lies in working with retailers on the development of their health and lifestyle products. Irish companies should look at markets in the broader context of health, nutrition and well-being, as well as functional foods.
Bord Bia has identified around 35 Irish companies active to varying degrees within the health, nutrition and functional food and drink sectors. Of the 35 companies, 17 are active in the manufacture of ingredients that go into products and the remaining 18 are manufacturers of prepared food and drink.
Fiona Angus, business manager of Nutrition at Leatherhead Food International, also spoke on Strategy Initiatives and Procurement Trends of Key UK retailers. The presentation was developed from original trade research among the major UK retailers commissioned by Bord Bia, which found that one in four consumers in Britain buys functional foods.
Gill Fine, head of Food & Health at Sainsbury's, addressed the retailer approach to healthy eating and David Richardson, chairman of the EU Concerted Action PASSCLAIM, discussed legislation and functional and health claims.
EU Commissioner David Byrne also contributed to the seminar, providing insight into future EU policy on health and functional foods.