The EU has launched a new functional food network for the European food industry in a bid to strengthen innovation in this burgeoning area.
Functional foods investigated in the EC 4th, 5th, and 6th Framework research programmes will be the focus of the new network, to involve 40-50 food or ingredients SMEs, larger enterprises and industrial incubators, but not large and international companies.
In addition, no more than three to six businesses from each of the 15 EU member states and 10 incoming countries can participate.
The companies are expected to produce dairy products, baked products, cereals/breakfast cereals, confectionery, soft drinks, fats/oils/spreads, and ingredients. Other products with a functional food potential are also welcome - sports drinks, vegetables, ready meals, meat and eggs. No competing companies on the same markets are accepted, thereby allowing close collaboration and development leading to eventual joint ventures.
In addition, a number of EU experts in the functional foods, health, nutrition, market and innovation will be invited to assist the enterprises in their development.
The network, due to be up and running in the autumn and continue for three years, aims to benefit smaller companies, especially those who are regional or national suppliers of ingredients and ordinary foods - dairy products, baked products, breakfast cereals, soft drinks, sports products, spreads and oils, ready meals and confectionery.
According to a statement from Finn Holm, director of the FoodGroup in Denmark, the commercial interest is based on several factors - strong growth of the functional food markets, new scientific findings on the influence on chronic diseases, new functional food ingredients available and a recent draft proposal from the EC (July 2003) on accepting health claims and a procedure for approval, harmonising the legal situation in the EU.
Even if functional foods are still in a nascent state, and only over a small percentage of the total food supply, statistics suggest it is growing rapidly. Datamonitor estimates the global market - including food supplements - to be €73 billion in 2000, and growing by 16 per cent per year. The market analysts also value the US functional foods market at €12.7 billion in 1998, €8.5 billion in Europe and €8.2 billion in Japan.
In Europe the market is estimated to grow at 6.8 per cent annually with dairy-based functional foods at €3.9 billion, the largest product group, followed by cereal products at €2.5 billion, with major confectionery products, fats and spreads, and soft drinks following behind. According to Holm, the above figures are only market estimates for UK, Germany and France so the actual gross figure for Europe is much higher.
Companies interested in participating in this new initiative must respond by 20 September 2003 to Finn Holm, FoodGroup Denmark, Gustav Wieds Vej 10, DK-8000 Aarhus, Denmark, or by email.