A Nutra eye on 2009

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Digestive health, Nutrition

A Nutra eye on 2009
As we wind down the online printing presses here at NutraIngredients for 2008, it seems appropriate to cast our eyes forward and locate those trends that are likely to battle for the functional foods and supplements spotlight in the coming year.

The momentum of areas that have dominated in 2008 such as probiotics, omega-3s, superfruits and weight management remains strong and seem certain to continue registering fat blips on the commercial and consumer radar in 2009. The interest you, our readers, have shown in these topics confirms this fact.

Despite the ongoing frustration of scientific studies that ask of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs and other nutrients that which they were never meant to deliver – like curing cancer or treating severe depression – the year ahead looks promising for their use in an array of matrices from supplements to cosmeceuticals to functional foods and drinks.

Built to purpose

With the financial climate bringing closer scrutiny to business and personal budgets alike, there is an argument that sales of healthy foods and supplements may benefit because individuals place greater emphasis on maintaining wellness through dietary choices, rather than face often exorbitant costs in the medical system.

As Julian Mellentin, author, consultant and editor of monthly trade journal New Nutrition Business​, observes in ‘10 Key trends in Food, Nutrition and Health 2009’​: “The effect of a slowdown will be to reinforce the core nutrition business trends and sweep away the fads and the peripheral ideas.”

In countries where state health support is minimal, this is especially the case, and makes a lot of sense as it allows healthy foods to play the role they were designed for – maintaining wellness and preventing disease – rather than some kind of silver bullet fired out of a shoddy gun. It’s a suss strategy and one that can only make pumpkins of all concerned.

If price premiums can be kept low, a process that should be assisted by falling energy and transport costs after a couple of years of steep rises, then a greater percentage of the population is likely to take an interest in foods with a ‘healthy halo’.

The year promises to be very interesting in terms of the way the ‘health halo’ can be marketed, with crucial European nutrition and health claims legislation reaching fruition in early 2010 and the resolution of the GSK weight loss petition expected in the US. With hundreds of millions of dollars and euros hanging in the balance, industry awaits with baited breath.

Top trends: Digestive health

Of all the categories predicted to shine in 2009, most of the trendspotters place digestive health near the top of the pile.

The probiotics and prebiotics-dominated area had an impressive year, especially in North America where the Dannon’s probiotic spoonable and drinking yoghurts continued their remarkable ascent into the consciousness of mainstream America.

The probiotic market there has surged past €500m from virtually zilch less than five years ago.

Mellentin ranked digestive health as THE KEY TREND for 2009, just as he did in 2008, and he noted the importance of efficacy in their success, as well as its overlap into the area of immunity.

Probiotic products, along with energy drinks, probably stand-out, as products that have consumers, as Mellentin says, “feeling the benefit”​ very quickly.

“Digestive health is a wellness issue that affects everyone; it is more important to consumers than heart health or cholesterol-lowering or any other medicalised issue,”​ he wrote.

Fibre, fruit and fruit juice as a non-dairy medium, would also play key roles in the digestive health area this year, he noted.

Omega-3

There are some, Mellentin included, who feel there is more hype to the omega-3 boom than hard sales, but as the major marine-sourced, omega-3 trade group, GOED, states, the category is still in its relative infancy.

While breakthrough mainstream sales in omega-3 foods and beverages are as yet few and far between, product launches are flooding the market in many regions and companies are refining their marketing ploys to match increasing consumer knowledge.

But there have been high-profile product withdrawals causing some to question the strength of public interest, but this is hard to gauge as supplement sales remain buoyant, and even those that have mounted them, have admitted to mis-directed and executed marketing campaigns.

It will be an interesting year for omega-3, but with its well-documented brain, heart and other health benefits, it is hard to see the ingredient falling too far from the spotlight in 2009, especially as formulation improvements continue, thereby increasing the potential for high-dose functional foods, which may go a long way to improving their all-round saleability.

Weight management

Despite greater awareness of dietary pitfalls, endless government ‘improve your lifestyle’ campaigns, and a general shift from the mainstream food industry to healthier foods, ‘globesity’ remains a major problem in many countries, and so ingredients and foods that can offer assistance in this area have an instant appeal.

There is also a large market for the non-obese who seek to control their weight or even their body shape.

Most large ingredients companies have an offering or a whole suite of offerings in the area ranging from plant extracts, to protein forms to salt, fat and sugar replacers and all offering either calorie burning, fat burning or satiety benefits.

Plant-based solutions took a blow in 2008 when Unilever pulled the pin on its hoodia ambitions, but with obesity rates surging in the developing world – especially in China, India and many other parts of Asia – it’s an area that will consume the attention of many in this business in the year ahead.

Fruit

Superfruits have won a place in the mainstream, with sales of prominent forms like cranberry, pomegranate, goji and acai doing well in many western markets, and usually at significant premiums.

With the novelty factor just about worn off, it seems superfruits, at least some of them, are here to stay, and they may kicked open the door for new form of ‘regular fruit’ marketing also.

“Ten years from now, if science can substantiate the many benefits now emerging, the term ‘superfruit’ may become redundant – and fruit, like dairy, may be a vehicle for delivering a wide array of health benefits to consumers,”​ wrote Mellentin.

We could go on, but it may be time for a probiotic juice drink. May your choices be fruitful in 2009.

Mellentin’s top 10 trends for 2009 are:

1. Digestive health

2. Feel the benefit

3. Weight management

4. Energy

5. Naturally healthy

6. Fruit: the future of functional foods

7. Kids’ nutrition

8. Snacking

9. Target the loyal niches

10. Packaging and premiumisation

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