Ireland sets ambitious targets for functional foods industry

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Functional foods, Nutrition, Ireland

Ireland's functional foods industry has been slated for major
growth under a government-backed development programme announced
last week.

A new National Functional Foods Forum is designed to pool industry and scientific resources to drive the sector forward from its current sales of approximately €100 million to generate more than €250 million in the next five years.

Functional foods are seen as a significant area of potential for Ireland's food industry.

The Irish agri-food and drink sector accounts for more than 8.9 per cent of Ireland's GDP and 9 per cent of total employment. The country is the fourth largest food exporting nation in the European Union - some 77 per cent of this trade is to EU Member States and 23 per cent to international markets.

"Ireland is well positioned to make its mark in this sector. An existing strong food and pharma industries base, ample availability of quality raw materials, state-of-the-art food and drink research centres, world class third level institutions, and technically advanced companies, all combine to make the environment right,"​ said Mike Feeney, executive director of the government-funded trade initiative Enterprise Ireland.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre based at University College Cork, Feeney added: "Our aim should be to develop Ireland as an internationally recognised centre of functional food development and manufacturing."

He called for increased commercialisation of functional foods research in Ireland and, under the new forum, "a deep commitment by industry to R&D and innovation, and a collaborative drive in funding...involving industry, the state sector and research partners".

Currently Irish manufacturing capability is largely confined to a small number of large dairy companies and SMEs in the ingredient and beverages sectors, making products such as probiotic infant formulas, fortified milk drinks, energy drinks and functional ingredients for sports and adult nutrition.

Export markets like the UK, Japan, the Middle East and South East Asia are key for the small country that has a domestic functional foods market estimated at €12 million.

However some of its bigger ingredients firms have demonstrated their interest in this sector. Dairy group Glanbia has opened a dedicated R&D centre this year and is seeking to grow its nutritionals business.

Other functional ingredients companies include natural antioxidants producer AlphaOmega Nutraceuticals, Deoxy, which refines and markets carbohydrate-based ingredients for gastro-intestinal health, marine-based minerals manufacturer Marigot and EuroFlavour, which develops and produces phytosterol esters for cholesterol-lowering products.

The Forum has been charged with developing a strategic plan for the sector, that will include adapting 'best practice' models from international markets with strong functional food industries like Japan, Finland and the US.

It should also developing networks and collaboration opportunities with industry and the research community, support innovation programmes and encourage joint ventures and greenfield investment, said Feeney.

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