Wellness Food Trends for 2007

We consulted the top experts in consumer and producer research to bring you the latest on the ingredient and product trends that affect your industry. Whether the latest hot antioxidants or the focus on healthy oils and proteins, the "in" ingredients will help attract consumers to better health.

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According to the World Health Organization, obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with more than one billion adults overweight and at least 300 million clinically obese. The rising epidemic is a major contributor to the burden of chronic disease and disability and reflects the profound changes in society and in behavioral patterns of communities over recent decades.

Consumers of all ages are increasingly concerned about obesity, as obesity and overweight rates rise to record levels among adults and children alike. As a result, the market for diet products has reached $42 billion in the U.S., and is growing at a rate of about 3.5 percent per year. "Diet foods are not functional foods since they are characterized by an absence of calorific or fatty ingredients rather than the presence of other ingredients. However, there is scope for functional products to target dieting consumers in two major ways," say Datamonitor experts.

One size does not fit all
According to IFIC studies, 40 percent of women mentioned weight as a top point of interest whereas only 27 percent of men thought it priority one. However, 40 percent of men singled out heart disease or heart attacks though only 29 percent of women shared the same priority. Almost nine in 10 men and eight in 10 women wanted to learn more about incorporating healthful foods, although one third of Americans age 25 to 34 years made no changes to their diets. However, 40 percent in the 45 to 54 age group had made dietary changes. Of those, two-thirds did so by removing "less healthful foods and beverages." And, nearly half of the women age 18 to 24 said they were "were most likely to augment their diets with healthful components."

One way is the manufacture of "low-and-light" nutraceutical products. Early examples were spreads, such as McNeil Nutritional's Benecol and Unilever USA's Promise, providing putative health benefits through reduction of dietary cholesterol. Even within energy drinks, products such as Diet Red Bull have achieved significant sales in many geographies. This suggests a demand for the caffeine and other fortified components without the sugar and its resultant calories.

But the emerging strategy is development of functional products specifically targeting consumer weight-loss needs not via displacing higher-fat foods, but by "having a direct functional effect that drives weight loss." Such products are referred to as "negative calorie" products.

Negative calorie products are said to influence metabolism via stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, ginseng or maté (also called "yerba maté"), to the point of using as many or more calories as is in the product itself. Maté, which provides stimulation from a chemical analog of caffeine called xanthine, is poised on the verge of mainstream popularity. A number of beverages containing mate have been rolled out in just the past few years.

Some negative calorie products are also marketed as appetite suppressors, a trait long associated with stimulants. So far, these products have emerged primarily in the beverage category. Beverages with no calorific value are more practical to produce than foods. However, there may be scope to develop functional foods with the same aspects, and in fact a few such confectionary products, such as chocolates, mints and breath strips, are already on the market.

Childhood nutrition needs figure large, especially considering the childhood obesity and diabetes crisis. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, an estimated 40 percent of overweight children and 70 percent of obese children will remain overweight or obese through adulthood. This suggests the obesity epidemic will be with us for at least another generation or more.

The millions of children who are either overweight or obese accounts for the dramatic surge in type 2 diabetes. As with their adult counterparts, obese children are far more likely than their contemporaries to suffer any number of concomitant health problems and risks.

An analysis of recent product launches on Productscan shows that in categories such as snacks, bakery and cereals and soft drinks, brands are targeting parents more than kids. But in 2001, kids' brands in these categories targeted kids with exciting flavors, sweet tastes and a fun factor. For example, in 2001 manufacturers of ready meals targeted kids through bright colors, cartoon characters on the packaging and with food such as chicken nuggets and burgers in fun shapes.

Note To Marketers
According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, "Consumers want to embrace the latest trends related improving their nutrition and remain attentive to food and nutrition science, but they find themselves inundated with information that falls short of clearing confusion. In fact, nutrition messages often contribute to consumer misunderstanding and information overload. That is why everyone in the communication chain should focus on providing information tailored to boost consumer knowledge and support targeted behavior modification.

Previous qualitative and quantitative research from IFIC has shown that conflicting and impersonal nutrition messages on emerging dietary trends can lead to consumer frustration. For example, one day fiber reportedly helps prevent disease, but the next day it does not. Unfortunately those who report nutrition news often lack a technical background, so the messages provided do not fit within consumers' lifestyles. The bottom line to achieve behavior change is the message must possess applicability and actionability.

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