Special Edition: Functional Foods

Naturally functional: Are consumers turned off by 'added' functionality

By Emma Jane Cash

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/Happiestsim
© iStock/Happiestsim
A huge 70% of Europeans prefer health benefits from natural foods, rather than added benefits, according to Mintel - so could the perception that functional foods are unnatural be a barrier to casual users?

The Western Europe market for ‘Naturally Healthy’ products has grown 3.9% from 2015 to 2016, and the organic trend has risen 5.4%.

However the fortified or functional foods market has grown minimally, by 1.3%, as consumers are seeking natural ingredients over added benefits.

This has meant that the naturally functional market is now worth almost double the functional foods market ($60.1 bn (€56.3 bn) compared to $33.9 bn (€31.8 bn)).

Is 'natural functionality' best?

“Consumers are pushing the boundaries of ‘natural’ to new limits. Having E-number free ingredients labels is no longer enough, and consumers are challenging all types of added ingredient, whether natural or not. Consumers are seeking pure, real food ingredients that they are familiar with,”​ said Emma Schofield, global food scientist at Mintel.

However, over four in ten French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish consumers believe that foods with added functional health claims can help them to live a healthier lifestyle, added Schofield.

Consumers are attracted to functional foods when they offer solutions to dietary related health problems.

Despite this, natural functionality is best, says Schofield.

“Consumers are likely to prefer a functional product that boasts a functional component that has been derived from a natural source, than one that has been made from artificial sources,”​ she said.

Weight management, energy drinks and beauty from within products are proving to be the most popular functional products, with probiotic yoghurts, nuts, green teas and mineral water growing in the naturally healthy sector.

Beverages are especially popular due to their on-the-go appeal to busy consumers.

Health claim approvals, especially from boards such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are needed for naturally healthy products as much, if not more, than for functional food products.

However, it can be argued that approvals have no marketing value if the health benefit only has a limited appeal​.

Do sports nutrition products need to be natural?

During our recent online event on Sports Nutrititon, we spoke to experts about naturally functional products.

Peder Kraugerud, research analyst from Euromonitor International, being organic or natural is not an essential credential for sports nutrition to have, as core users – elite athletes and body builders – will not be actively searching for these products.

However, for casual users, or fitness lifestyle users, of sports nutrition products, he said that being perceived as unnatural could be a potential barrier.

Another research analyst from Euromonitor International, Povilas Sugintas, said: “For now, this unnaturalness is one of the hindrances – consumers still have a lot of stereotypes. What this means is that some people who would normally buy these products now won’t buy them precisely for this reason, because they just don’t perceive them as being natural”.

Sugintas added that being perceived as unnatural could also cause consumers to perceive products as being unhealthy.

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4 comments

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Natural food are functional per se

Posted by Lyudmyla Vesper,

Having more than 10 years medicine (nutritionist) practice and more than 15 years as organic food expert can say that organic and natural food are functional food "per se".
They they contain most of the necessary nutrients than promote normal digestion and organism functioning.

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Naturally or inherently functional

Posted by Ronan Gormley,

Was interested to read this article. We wrote about this some time ago but used the term 'inherently functional'. See pages 216-220 in the link to the document entitled 'Functional Foods: Some Pointers for Success' by Gormley & Holm
https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/ffnet%20funct%20fds%20final%20e-publication%20jan%202011.pdf

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Naturally or inherently functional

Posted by Ronan Gormley,

Was interested to read this article on 'naturally functional'. WE have written on this topic some time ago and use the term 'inherently functional'. See pages 216 to 220 in the article with the link below:
https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/ffnet%20funct%20fds%20final%20e-publication%20jan%202011.pdf

The name of the e-book containing the article is: 'Functional Foods: Some pointers for success' by Gormley & Holm

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