Wellness Foods: Products to Watch in 2009

Developing products with multiple health benefits is on trend — but don’t overwhelm.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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The move to create foods that are “be all-end all” products combining multiple ingredients for health is part of the encroaching convergence of marketing for a number of health benefits and conditions. A rush of products typifying this trend have been marketed during the past year or so and serve as indicators for the direction new products will take in 2009 and beyond. Here are some examples. 

Beverages such as Purple juice beverage by Purple Juice Co. (www.drinkpurple.com), Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., are prime examples of where the trend-oriented drinks are headed. Calling itself “the most powerful antioxidant beverage on the planet” and made from seven superfruits (açai, black cherry, pomegranate, black currant, purple plum, cranberry and blueberry), Purple is not overkill; it’s a drink succeeding by arriving on the crest of the trend and aiming for multiple targets. 

Grouping trendy ingredients and targeting several different health issues, as does Purple seven-superfruit beverage for heart and cognitive health, is typical of the shift toward multiple product focuses.

Purple strikes with a heart-healthy banner as well as targeting Alzheimer’s, cancer and aging. The drink then rounds things out with a note that each serving counts toward the recommended “5 A Day Fruit for Better Health” program.

Tea fits nicely into the growing market for widely inclusive, “on trend” products. As research reveals more and more healthy compounds and benefits related to Camilla senensis, this oldest and most globally popular of beverages can’t be content to just lend extracts of itself to non-beverage products.

The drink itself is branching out. Ito En North America Inc.’s (www.teastea.com) Tea’s Tea brand of cold teas cover a lot of ground. Its calorie-free and exotic flavors — for example, rose green tea —  are a nod toward the growing demand for ethnic flavors, such as Indian and Middle Eastern.

Tea’s Tea products declare their catechins and theanine for heart health and antioxidant benefit. When it comes to eco-friendliness, the brand not only boasts its use of non-GMO product but pulls a truly unique rabbit out of its hat. The company won multiple awards for turning its used tea leaves into paper, cardboard and (combined with recycled plastic) pens and even benches. 

A combination of multiple physical and social benefits makes for a successful combination in the crowded beverage market, such as Ito En’s green tea polyphenols, ethnic floral flavors and ecologically focused cold tea drinks.

Although enhanced waters have overflowed the market the past few years and have very likely peaked, the ones most likely to hang in there come in two forms: Those “grandfathered in,” such as the ubiquitous Vitaminwater (www.vitaminwater.com), now owned by Coca Cola Co. and appearing in vending machines and every store in the world; and the newcomers who “get it,” such as Ayala Water (www.herbalwater.com).

What makes organic Ayala float to the top of a very crowded pool of competition is, in a word, quality. They have flavor without tasting fake, they really do refresh and they don't feel as if someone just put three drops of flavorant in a water and charged you out the wazoo for it. They also are right on trend — ethnic and floral — with flavors: vanilla bean, lemongrass, clove and cardamom, lavender, ginger, orange peel and lemon peel.

Not just beverages

Whereas beverages have shown themselves to be important advance guards of trendiness, snack foods certainly have been overwhelmed by the “health-plus” trend. Betty Lou’s Inc. (www.bettylousinc.com), McMinnville, Ore., makes its Nut Butter Balls snacks with food allergies in mind, using brown rice syrup as a sweetener and no wheat, corn or soy. But it also adds DSM Nutritional Products’ (www.dsm.com) Teavigo green tea extract, San Joaquin Valley Concentrate’s (www.activin.com) Activin grape seed extract, Advanced Ingredients Inc.’s (www.advancedingredients.com ) Fruitrim as well as inulin, rice bran, rice protein concentrate and grapefruit extract, the need for new products to apply to multiple needs is something major processors readily recognize. “American consumers continue to request better-for-you, convenient products that fit their nutritional needs and their lifestyles,” says Jennifer Garrett, director of nutrition marketing for Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. (www.kellogg.com).

“Kellogg is introducing new Live Bright brain-health bars with 100mg of DHA omega-3 to help support brain health,” she adds. “That’s fives times more DHA omega-3 than most Americans eat each day.”

Live Bright brain-health bars are made with Martek Bioscience Inc.’s life’s DHA brand vegetarian DHA omega-3. Available in dark chocolate vanilla and double chocolate flavors, the convenient bars “offer consumers an easy way to get more DHA into their diet,” says Garrett. According to Garrett, Live Bright bars will be marketed to adults, “specifically those who actively manage their health via diet and lifestyle.”

Other growing product trend categories focusing on multiple platforms include foods for kids. Baby and toddler foods joined the merge with multiple releases of products simultaneously appealing to health, organic, vegetarian and minimally processed trends.

Until now, the majority of formulators have been of the boutique variety, but led by the larger concern, Earth’s Best (www.earthsbest.com), a part of Boulder, Colo.-based Hain Celestial Group. The big companies took note, and suddenly our little ones are getting lots of attention.

Nestlé’s Gerber group launched its Gerber Organics and followed up with its new Gerber Graduates for Preschoolers line of “healthy meals” for toddlers as well as Gerber 2nd Foods Dinners with DHA purees. Fortified with 18mg of DHA omega-3 per serving, they target support of brain and eye development.

Graduates are a mere toe in the water, limiting focus to a “no preservatives” claim. But more such foods surely are coming. This trend won’t stop growing until every manufacturer has its own line of organic, sustainable, nutraceutical-enhanced foods for the under-12 demographic. 

From exotic products (like spirulina and ginseng) to simple products (almond) with added green tea and grape seed extracts, Betty Lou’s overwhelms with the “health-plus” trend.
When Nell Newman added the organic side to her father’s Newman’s Own Co., the category was fringe. Today, organic is a fixed part of our food choice demands with NOO marketing more than 100 organic products.

Babies and toddlers aren’t our only charges benefiting from a fresh (and organic and functional) revolution in foods. Our pets are witnessing the sudden growth of organic and healthy pet foods.
As the owner goes, so goes the pet. As consumers become avid label readers of the foods they eat themselves, they’re keeping an eye out on what they choose for Fido and Fifi. As a result, our critters are graying as standards of pet care improve, adding another impetus to focus closely what these close family members eat.

Let’s not forget organic

Over the past few years we’ve reported on how the organic category continues to grow. It might be more pervasive if supply could keep up with demand.

Even in a highly stressed, near-depression economy, organic/sustainable/fair trade/eco-friendly products still are growing at rates three to eight times faster than non-organic products, according to the Organic Trade Assn. Packaged Facts estimates the organic food and beverage industry will have hit $33 billion in sales this year, with experts predicting growth edging toward $40 billion by end of 2010.

Few companies understand the continually burgeoning organic market as does Newman’s Own Organics (www.newmansownorganics.com), Westport, Conn. A pioneer of mainstream healthful, organic versions of familiar foods, the company carved a significant niche and became a trend leader.

Today, after a quarter century of leading, and with more than 100 products and annual sales of $185 million, Newman’s Own and Newman’s Own Organics carries on the late Paul Newman’s generous legacy of combining health, eco-friendliness and social responsibility to the tune of more than $250 million given to a number of charities.

The continuing growth and expansion in organics opened new opportunities for the ready-to-eat dinners category. Companies and products such as Organic Bistro Whole Life meals (www.theorganicbistor.com), United Natural Brands Inc.’s Rising moon Skillet Meals (www.risingmoon.com), and Helen’s Foods’ Helen’s Kitchens (www.helensfoods.com) are three examples of the way “in-home fast food” is trending. Specializing in organic and vegetarian heat-and-eat meals, they are price-competitive, mainstream and stepped into a breach left by the previous generation of antecedents who thought flavor could be a secondary concern.

“The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center revealed organic soy foods represent the fastest growing consumer food segment in the past 10 years,” says Stephen Moore, CEO of Helen’s. “It’s thought that improvements in the taste of soy products, along with a change in American mainstream health perspectives, has helped to spur this growth.”

Moore also notes a “resurgence of classic comfort foods” and points to other trends the company is tuned into. “Green, carbon-footprint-oriented foods are fueled by global climate-change concerns. Helen’s Foods are American-made, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Also, if an organic ingredient can be purchased locally, we buy local. We also use certified organic practices and ingredients, meaning that the way we manufacture offers the least impact the environment. In addition, we utilize certified organic ingredients taken from farms that place an emphasis on sustainable farming practices, a key to ensuring a healthier earth.”

For the next few years, food and beverage products will have to be designed  to serve multiple marketing points. But they also will have to meet the single most important criterion: taste.
The hot products in wellness are no exception. But with technology bringing new depth to flavor development and nutraceutical capacity, processors can meet demand for on-trend, healthful and responsibly made foods that fulfill taste expectations most of all.

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