Functional foods have been one of the boom areas of the food market; however, growth has slowed as consumers have become increasingly sceptical about some of the claims made.
This has coincided with a boom in superfoods and naturally occurring nutritionally dense foods. Increasingly, brands are switching sourcing of ingredients to those which have intrinsic health benefits.
And Mintel predicts that this trend is set to continue, as final health claims rulings may well mean that the functional foods category will have to face a major shift in the coming year.
Shifting health claims landscape
Indeed, if (as we have so far seen through a string of negative opinions) the health claims currently used are no longer valid for use, the industry will have to have a major re-think about how to position and market their products.
There is likely to be a move away from some health ingredients that may not be backed by sufficient clinical evidence towards naturally good sources of food that are well understood by consumers and do not require complex explanations or claims.
Some of the major brands were early adopters of naturally occurring functional foods - such as Weetabix with its Oatibix brand, which uses oats as a great source of slow release energy.
However, naturally occurring functional foods are generally marketed by smaller companies. In fact, to date many of the big players have not made a major contribution to this growing trend, which means this trend offers enormous potential.
It is difficult to say for certain exactly which products will pass the health claim ruling, but an initial look at some of the positive opinions issued to date suggests a strong path ahead for calcium and vitamin D for bone health, plant sterols and stanols for cholesterol reduction, DHA for childrens’ eye health, and tomato extract for blood circulation.
Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) highlights two of the more recent examples of this natural trend.
New in France from Lesieur is Lesieur Isio Actistérol Sauce Salad. Enriched with vegetable sterols, the dressing is claimed to reduce cholesterol in 3 weeks.
In the UK, Sirco Blueberry and Apple Juice is 100 per cent pure fruit juice made from concentrate with FruitFlow extract, which is an active tomato extract that helps maintain a healthy heart and benefits circulation. The all natural juice is cholesterol free and contains no artificial colours, flavourings, sweeteners or preservatives.
So for now, it remains a waiting game as final health claims rulings determine what lies ahead. The eyes of the industry will be on the European funtional foods market for what is set to be an interesting year.