Of the seven categories that experienced double-digit revenue growth in the last year, five offered perceived health or weight-loss benefits, according to the report, with soy-based drinks, up 31 per cent, and drinkable yoghurts, rising by 19 per cent, ranking as the two fastest growing products.
Both were among the fastest growing in a similar study done in 2002.
The study's findings are based on retail purchases across 59 markets spanning Asia Pacific, the emerging markets, Europe, Latin America and North America. Information was collected for the 12 months ending July 2004 and compared to the previous 12-month-period.
Interestingly, eggs also saw strong growth, of 16 per cent, likely supported by consumer interest in high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets, particularly in more developed markets.
Evidence of the trend is seen again in the low growth (no more than 4 per cent) of the 10 'non-sweet carbohydrates' categories.
"What is still in question is whether the low-carb phenomenon will take root as an important sub-sector of a number of food and beverage categories, or be just a passing fad," said report author Jane Perrin, ACNielsen managing director.
In the US, where the phenomenon began, there is evidence that interest in products with low-carb claims is losing steam, and in most other markets, products have not become well-established.
However health food producers present in emerging markets will be the most successful, suggests the report. These countries (ACNielsen included several eastern European countries as well as Saudi Arabia and South Africa) are proving increasingly important for the food and beverage industry in general, with a total growth rate of 10 per cent over the period reviewed, compared to a 2 per cent growth in Europe.
More than one-third of the categories experienced double-digit growth, including healthy products like cereal and muesli bars, which grew by 47 per cent in this region. Product launches in Eastern Europe helped to drive sales.
"Global marketers of food and beverage products need to ensure that they are positioned to capture the many growth opportunities that exist in these developing markets, or risk being left behind," commented Perrin.