What Are Functional Foods

What Are Functional Foods?

Disease prevention and health enhancement is a goal towards which an increasing number of consumers strive. Consequently, there is a rising awareness amongst consumers about the health and nutritional benefits of various foods. This has created a substantial global market for what is termed “functional foods”.

Functional foods are the foods that provide health benefits beyond just energy and essential nutrients. The health promoting and disease preventing properties of functional foods make them a growing preference amongst consumers.

The increase in health care costs and longevity have resulted in a growing interest in, and widespread understanding of, how a balanced and nutritionally complete diet are key to managing health and improving the body’s immune responses. This consumer interest and awareness has been responsible for driving the growth of the functional foods market globally.

Definition of “Functional Food”

The European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE) proposed a working definition of functional food, which reads as follows:

“A food that beneficially affects one or more target functions in the body beyond adequate nutritional effects in a way that is relevant to either an improved state of health and well-being and/or reduction of risk of disease. It is consumed as part of a normal food pattern. It is not a pill, a capsule or any form of dietary supplement.”

Global Functional Food Trends

The market for enhanced / functional foods and beverages continues to grow in line with changing consumer trends in health, wellness and lifestyles. According to Euromonitor, the global market for functional foods is estimated at $260 Billion per annum and is growing rapidly.

Generally, consumers are navigating the health and wellness category with greater breadth and depth of knowledge within the functional food and beverage market segments. Consumers are tending to focus on positive and vital experiences, emotional wellness, new exercise techniques, complementary medicine and what they view as “clean, real foods”. Opting for the healthier version of “like” foods is the most practiced healthy shopping strategy. 58% of shoppers practice it more than half of the time (FMI, 2010). This suggests a shift in consumer interest from conventional “health” solutions to products and services that are strongly associated with “quality of life”.

Global Food Trends

According to “New-Nutrition Business”, who publish annual reports about global food trends, there are 10 globally relevant emerging food trends.

Products that are free from Gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats), and allergens such as Cows milk allergy (CMA), for example, are in great demand and showing global market growth. There are eight allergies that can be addressed through food formulations. Gluten free products currently offer the largest opportunity.

Addiction to sugar and the excessive consumption thereof is considered to be a serious health hazard, and there is growing resistance to its unnecessary use. This resistance is evident in health systems across the Western world where there is increasing pressure to reduce sugar in foods, and even ban certain products containing sugar from being advertised on television. Some regulatory authorities restrict or ban the sale of food and beverages with high sugar content on school premises.

A growing number of consumers consider protein, along with fibre and calcium, to be a “good ingredient”. The gradual understanding of the wide ranging benefits of protein gives marketers multiple opportunities. Protein has become a more mainstream choice: high protein sports nutrition products have moved from being the niche of body building competitors to being among the repertoire of health choices for active, healthy people.

It is the “feel the benefit” advantage that is the underpinning of the now 25 year long global success story of energy drinks (a 50 year success story in Asia). Providing an immediate and detectable shot of stimulation has made energy drinks a continuing story of growth at premium prices. This made energy drinks recession proof, with growth barely pausing in the depths of the economic downturn. Energy drinks meet one of consumers’ key needs: “energy”. Energy is consistently ranked among consumers’ top 5 needs (according to Health Focus International research in 32 countries).

Consumers are realising that fad diets are unsuccessful in the long term and that a lifestyle change is the solution to maintaining a goal weight and looking and feeling good about one self.

Worldwide, industry interest in claims focused on “slow-release energy” or “sustained-release energy” has increased sharply over the past two to three years. “Energy” is now well established as a claim that consumers love. This is not surprising when you consider that “energy” is consistently ranked among consumers’ top 5 needs (as mentioned in point 4 above). Food and beverage manufacturers have the opportunity to emulate the success of the energy drinks sector, but with something that addresses the need for sustained energy.

Fat. It causes high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, right? Think again. A new cookbook explains why ‘banting’ – the high-fat diet – can be a healthy choice Fat, if the past year’s headlines are anything to go by, is no longer the enemy. It’s back on the menu (the trend for butter-laden Bulletproof coffee, anyone?), back in our kitchens (low-carb “fat bomb” recipes abound), and even back in the good books of US government dietary advisers. Their report, released in May, declared eating cholesterol-rich foods has very little bearing on the amount of cholesterol in your body. If the US government adopts its advice, it could mean a reversal of the dietary information given to Americans since the 1960s. Credit

Now a new book by three South Africans, the scientist and ultra-marathon-runner Professor Tim Noakes, the nutritionist Sally-Ann Creed, and the chef Jonno Proudfoot, is about to be published in the UK. It explains how we can load up on butter, cheese and cream, while staying healthy and – miraculously – losing weight.

The Real Meal Revolution has become a bestseller in South Africa since it came out in 2013. Flicking through its recipes, it is easy to see why. The ingredients lists are a mouthwatering roll-call of forbidden fruits: cream cheese, Parmesan, streaky bacon, pork belly ribs, thick Greek yogurt and coconut cream. Oh, and lashings of full-fat milk. Noakes, Creed and Proudfoot prescribe a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet that is, they acknowledge, far from new. They credit the eating habits of early humans, the hunter-gatherers who ate wild animals for fat and protein but consumed few grains – a proposition familiar to anyone well-versed in the Paleo diet. Credit

Along with the growth in organic foods, trend watchers are reporting an increase in snacking. Combine these two trends and you get this: healthy snacks are the fastest growing segment within the organic and natural foods markets. It makes sense. Americans have increased their snacking frequency over the last 5 years, with more people eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day, versus fewer large meals.

Bruce Lee once said that “If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of” and in some ways this has come to dictate how we live in the 21st Century: an era of endless rush and driving need for self-progression in a society that continually sets itself against the clock. The pace of 21st Century life has already catalysed the evolution of the snacking phenomenon and according to Mintel research the number of global food and drink launches with on-the-go claims increased 54% between 2011 and 2016. Adjacent to the on-the-go snacking trend, the away-from-home snacking positioning is also emerging, Innova further asserts. Popular words found on product packaging at present are “ideal for school boxes” or “perfect office snack.” We expect, as many already do, future products to potentially be obliged to display the ‘time taken to make’ on their packaging. “30% of Canadian breakfast eaters say that breakfast products that require little or no preparation are important to them.” With an overarching shift towards consumer volition to make and consume healthier meals, many wish to reconcile the length of time taken to prepare such meals with their desire to improve the nutritional content of their diet.

There is a growing global awareness that eating the right foods can lead to reduction in illness and disease and the reverse is also true – eating less of the bad stuff can also lead to significant lifestyle improvements.