Wellness Food Trends for 2010

Our annual look at the future of better-for-you foods.

By Wellness Foods staff

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For this reason, too, we should expect 2009’s sudden increase in the use of gluten-free pea flour, with its natural high-protein and high resistant starch profile, to continue to grow with vigor.

Ideally, certain ingredients that fold into the trends disclose unexpected functions. Such basics as vitamin D, tea extracts, fiber and probiotics are revealing abilities previously unsuspected in helping the body to manage metabolism on a biological level. Even stevia research led to a recent surprise. DSM Nutritionals Inc. (www.dsm.com), Parsippany, N.J., filed a patent last fall based on research that disclosed that the glucosides in stevia demonstrate clear cognitive health function.

Specifically functional ingredients and products are not being shunted aside, though. They’re part of the movement toward more responsibly crafted healthful formulations using natural and naturally derived ingredients. And you can’t get much more natural – or simple -- than bacteria. Probiotics, a.k.a. friendly bacteria, while a part of healthy food and beverage production for years, is in the midst of a growth spurt that rivals that of L. bulgaricaus in a warm gut.

Two technological innovations of recent years started the trend: the technology to cultivate “designer” micro-organisms and the ability to keep the bacteria alive and active under conditions of processing and fixing (i.e., in spray coatings for bars and cereals). Combined with aggressive gut-health consumer awareness campaigns and an explosion of research demonstrating positive health effects (immunity, metabolic balance, protection from cancer, reduced heart disease risk) and probiotics are embarking on an uptrend period good for at least the next two years.

“We see 2010 as an opportunity to expand probiotic technology through innovative applications such as hot and cold beverages and cereals, dry powders, nutritional bars and various baked goods including pizza and muffins,” says Mike Bush, vice president of business development at Ganeden Biotech Inc. (www.ganedenBC30.com), Mayfield Heights, Ohio. The company’s patented probiotic strain, GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086), is a spore-forming bacterium, which enables the probiotic to survive through rigorous manufacturing processes, shipping and shelf life of the product.

While dairy items such as yogurt and yogurt-like drinks are still the main source of probiotics in the diet, companies such as GoodBelly (www.goodbelly.com) are pushing the envelope. Its namesake non-dairy, juice-based, yogurt-like drink was created by former White Wave Inc. president Steve Demos. GoodBelly uses a designer bacteria of its own, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v. We can expect to see many more such probiotic vehicles in the coming years.

Probiotics also have helped draw attention to prebiotics — fibers and polysaccharides that have functional effects beneficial to health. Resistant starch is one to continue to take note of. In previous trends articles we’ve reported resistant starch was “about to take off,” yet it never did seem to gain ground. As with omega oils and probiotics, it’s a health ingredient with solid science backing it up, especially for weight loss, reduced heart disease and cancer risk and blood-sugar management.

Admittedly, the name “resistant” likely played a part in its lag. But 2010 could be a great year for the resistance movement. It’s been picked up by makers of bread and now pasta -- Racconto Pasta Inc., Melrose Park, Ill., even puts the National Starch Hi-maize logo on its box. Cereal and snack manufacturers also are showing keen interest. As a natural (it’s in corn, oats, barley, wheat, legumes, potatoes and bananas), prebiotic, fiberlike starch, it’s highly versatile for use in a wide variety of products.

Back to nature

At the risk of upsetting manufacturers of artificial preservatives, colorings and flavorings, Jane and Joe Sixpack simply cannot be more clear in their growing distaste for “chemicals” in their food. And yes, this trend is on track to grow.

Again, the Innova 2010 report positions the “natural” category as part of the simplicity trend. In the beverage category alone, the group noted “13 percent of global soft drinks launches in the first nine months of 2009 were positioned on a ‘natural’ platform, equivalent to nearly 1,000 products.”

A combination of the economic downturn and supply/demand issues have helped broaden acceptance of the “natural” designation by many formerly strict “organic only” processors. “The market for organics is no longer growing by double digit amounts annually,” explains George Eckrich, president of snack maker Dr. Kracker Inc. (www.drkracker.com), Austin, Texas. “But it is still growing, keeping prices from falling as much as conventionally grown grains. And smaller bakers and manufacturers like Dr. Kracker have to compete with larger companies for this limited supply.

“Whole grains and whole seeds, whether organic or natural, are in themselves a better value since they’re critical parts of a healthy diet,” he continues. “At Dr. Kracker we have two choices: We can focus strictly on the ‘ultra health-careful’ and well-off shopper, who is dedicated to organics and to whom price is not a barrier, or we can broaden our appeal to all shoppers seeking healthful foods.” So without abandoning the former, Dr. Kracker chose the latter.

Embracing “natural” also allows for such unique developments as vitamin D mushrooms from Monterey Mushrooms Inc. (www.montereymushrooms.com), Watsonville, Calif. These specially grown mushrooms naturally are high enough in vitamin D to provide 100 percent of an adult’s daily requirements in a single 3-oz. serving.

Navigating the future of healthful food and drink products in the next few years will involve caution, for sure, but right now the field’s never been better. That might seem odd, in light of such things as the leveling off of organic sales, the near-oversaturation of the market by superfruits and their clamoring claims and, of course, the fact that it now is extremely difficult for small and mid-level companies to acquire the funds to expand their lines. But for those processors able to circumvent the last, a very hungry public awaits.

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