Wellness Food Trends for 2009

Dec. 2, 2008
Condition-based marketing and parental concern for babies and toddlers will provide opportunities for product developers in the year ahead.

The hot nutrition and wellness issues coming in 2009 and beyond start with the very youngest members of the family. Growing awareness of the equation of “unhealthy food + children = future unhealthy adults,” coupled with advances in food and ingredient processing are influencing how parents feed infants and toddlers in the 21st century.

There is increasing emphasis on the sanctity of these products. “Natural,” “organic” and “no additives/preservatives” became top positioning claims, accounting for more than 50 percent of total product launches in 2007, according to Mintel International Group (, Chicago.

Nutrition and convenience are of utmost importance to 73 percent of 10,000 mothers surveyed, according to Zero To Three (, a national nonprofit organization that “informs, trains and supports professionals, policymakers and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.”

The recent shift toward healthier foods for babies and toddlers is only going to expand as large food companies follow the niche and boutique manufacturers who paved the way.
Maddy’s Organic Meals flash-freezes USDA organic-certified fruits for toddlers.

So feeding infants and toddlers has directed innovation focus on freshness and distribution to serve this market. In principle, mothers want to feed their infants and toddlers well; in practice, however, in recent decades they have reached for the convenience of cans and jars.

Small-batch fresh and frozen fruit, vegetable, legume and whole-grain-based baby and toddler foods are becoming more widely available from companies such as Happy Baby/Nurture Inc. (, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Homemade Baby (, Culver City, Calif.; Peas of Mind (, San Francisco; and Chicago-based Maddy’s Organic Meals ( Dori Boneck, Maddy’s owner (and mom of the real Maddy), flash-freezes USDA organic-certified fruits “at the peak of harvest to ensure maximum flavor and nutrients for toddlers around the nation.”

Such products are not only from start-ups. Companies with strong health credentials – Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. (, Latham, N.Y., for example – are reinforcing the new “better for you” message, promising “maximum nourishment.” Beech Nut’s new “No Junk” products – sans artificial flavors or colors, MSG, trans fats, added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or excessive salt – are fast becoming the norm for jarred and dry cereal baby foods.

“The new Stage 3 DHA Plus Sweet Potatoes & Wild Alaskan Salmon is the first jarred seafood option for babies,” says Beech Nut’s marketing director Mary Cool. Based on the latest understanding in infant nutrition, the innovative ingredient combinations provide omega-3 DHA to support baby’s mental and visual development and prebiotics (inulin) to stimulate baby’s growth of “good” bacteria and enhance calcium absorption.

The Stage 3 line includes whole wheat, which is another infant nutrition first in the U.S., to provide babies with added fiber, protein and magnesium, for healthy digestion, satiety and bone-building. The added algal DHA is from Martek (, Waltham, Mass.

For more on trends in infant and toddler nutrition, see "Feeding Baby."

A new man

Men increasingly are turning to food for preventative health, and manufacturers are taking greater interest in how the “other half” thinks about nutrition.

Whereas men’s health issues previously focused on one limelight issue — prostate cancer, with lycopene as a key preventive ingredient — research into nutraceuticals and men’s health is revealing a lot more for the guys from trendy health ingredients. Soy, often identified with the women’s health category, is a perfect example.

“Soy may provide men protection against prostate cancer, heart disease and even baldness,” says Suzanne Dixon, a cancer nutrition epidemiologist and registered dietitian. According to Dixon, male pattern baldness is associated with higher risk of prostate cancer, and soy can reduce the rate of formation of prostate specific antigen though a “common metabolic pathway.” Further research is ongoing, but this could mean soy can protect men against both prostate cancer and hair loss.

Vitasoy USA Inc. (, Ayers, Mass., manufactures Vitasoy Soymilks to provide a “simple way to adopt healthier eating habits without sacrificing great taste.” Organic Vanilla and Organic Chocolate soymilks allows for easy incorporation into a man’s daily diet.

Vitasoy’s Azumaya brand all-natural tofu and tofu wraps are proving particularly popular with younger men seeking robust health and a longer-lasting head of hair.

Men are still aware of the powerful prostate cancer protection properties of lycopene, the red colored carotenoid naturally occurring in tomatoes, guava, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Lycopene is now employed in soups – one of the most common processed foods in men’s pantries. Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co.’s Healthy Request ( may be benefiting from this, as evidenced by double-digit sales growth in the U.S., according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.

In its new batch of products, Pom Wonderful mixed the antioxidants of pomegranate with the pickup of coffee and decadent flavors for an adult, even senior-aimed, drink.
Soy, already popular with women for health benefits, is catching on with men for health issues ranging from prostrate cancer to baldness.

Of special interest to formulators is that, according to Udi Alroy, director of marketing for Lycored Ltd. (, Orange, N.J., lycopene is stable at elevated temperatures typical of food processing. Its stability over a wide range of pH values makes it especially applicable for beverages, dairy and meal-replacement bars.

While soup is a great delivery vehicle for tomatoes and lycopene, it’s not always convenient. It’s usually eaten from a bowl with a spoon. Enter Cool Soup, a clever soup-in-a-bottle, providing a healthy alternative for eating on the go.

Jacqueline Gartland and Patti Melcher, co-founders of Houston-based Go Appetít (, created Cool Soup to satisfy the need for fresh fruit and vegetables for consumers lacking time to shop and chop. Rich Vegetable Gazpacho and Creamy Mango Spice may be toted anywhere in their bottles and consumed at room temperature or chilled. The produce-based soups taste almost like smoothies and are low in calories, using 100-percent natural ingredients and no preservatives, artificial colors or artificial flavors.

And don’t forget cholesterol. While more men than women have high cholesterol, it’s a problem for both sexes. But there is a whole host of recent and coming products to lower the low-density lipoprotein or to raise the high-density lipoprotein. Fiber, particularly from oat bran, has been shown to lower cholesterol, and inulin is being employed as well.

Plant sterols are another cholesterol-busting ingredient. Both Cargill (under its CoroWise brand) and ADM (CardioAid brand) not only are supplying the sterols but are getting food and beverage processors to carry their brand names.

Sunset years

We’ve seen a correlation between the aging population and interest in crafting foods and beverages for today’s different class of seniors. Rolling Stone Mick Jagger isn’t the only one out there proving that, when it comes to basic physical ability and stamina, 65 really is the new 40.

Seniors want the comfort of familiarity in a finished product, as well as products that offer the nutrition and taste their educated palates have grown accustomed to. Products such as whole-grain Minute Brown Rice from Riviana Foods Inc. (, Houston, offer both. It has the same nutritional values as long-cooking brown rice, but is ready in one-fourth the amount of time.

Always on the crest of a trend, Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful is skewing toward an older demographic by aiming at the energy and prostate health targets in addition to its heart-health marketing. To that end, the company created POMx Iced Coffee with a potent dose of caffeine and healthy antioxidants.

POMx Iced Coffee is touted as a sophisticated energy drink for seniors who seek a power boost but typically avoid the excess sugar and artificial ingredients associated with carbonated sodas and other, youth-directed energy drinks. In addition to coffee (and flavors such as chocolate), the product contains the new, patented POMx mixture of pomegranate juice and other polyphenol antioxidants, which appears to be a base for future Pom Wonderful products. The iced coffee also contains Rainforest Alliance-certified beans, rBST-free milk and cane sugar.

Preventive medicine and the idea that “a healthy intestine leads to a long life” are the very essence of the booming probiotics trend, which has become the focus of considerable attention. The issue may have started with seniors, but it’s quickly moving downward in the age demographic to touch all generations. Intestinal health even is being impressed upon children, thanks to products such as Danimals and Danino from Dannon and the Probugs line of whole-milk kefir from Lifeway Foods.

“While consumers might not know the term ‘probiotics,’ they do recognize the benefits of ‘friendly bugs’ in products [such as yogurt, kefir or yogurt-based beverages],” says Joe O’Neill of Beneo-Orafti (, Morris Plains, N.J.

The concept of friendly bacteria has made Activia and Danactive from Dannon ( the leading probiotics brands in the U.S. Dannon’s probiotic strains in dairy have a higher chance to survive passage through the GI tract. “In addition, when you consume the probiotic in dairy, you also are consuming a significant amount of protein and vitamins,” notes Miguel Freitas, director of R&D for Dannon USA.

A number of other formulators applying live cultures to bars and cereals. The difficulty is in the fragility of these live organisms, but ingredient manufacturers rapidly are developing the technology to keep friendly microbes alive during processing.

The green revolution(s)

Earlier this year it was Wal-Mart. Now online retail giant Amazon is focusing attention on ecologically friendly packaging. By the end of 2009, eco-friendly/green should become the rule, rather than the fringe, and the theme is especially connected to healthier products. As a result, sustainability is a subject of considerable interest to manufacturers. 

2009 may see efforts to standardize the definition of “green.” At the recent Pack Expo conference in Chicago, a speaker from Nestle touted the environmental friendliness of a plastic-tray baby food product over the previous glass one. The glass jar arguably is more recyclable; by being lighter, the plastic tray takes more soot-spewing trucks off the road. It takes more BTUs to melt sand into glass. But plastic requires petroleum.

Which is the environmentally correct answer?

We should expect also to see bigger growth in the principles of fair trade, which is becoming the norm for coffee, chocolate and bananas.

In the 2005-2006 rush to replace trans fats, many processors turned to palm oil. But the increased use of the oil also led to criticisms of the Malaysian palm oil industry over the conversion of tropical rainforests into plantations. New government and industry efforts are combatting the criticism and ensuring sustainability.

In August, the first Malaysian palm oil plantation was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s only international association formed to codify sustainable industry practices. United Plantations Bhd received the Certificate of Conformance to RSPO Principles and Criteria. The company allowed investigation of its nine estates, six mills and conservation areas.

“Palm oil producers in Malaysia – along with the Malaysian government – are committed to preserving the country’s natural resources and biodiversity,” said Mohd Salleh Kassim, executive director of the American Palm Oil Council, which represents the Malaysian palm oil industry. “We want our consumers here in the U.S. to know that palm oil purchased in Malaysia is produced in a responsible, environmentally-friendly manner.” And he noted there now is “documentation to back-up our commitment to sustainable practices.”

Dedicated to promoting the growth and use of sustainable palm oil, the RSPO defines sustainable palm oil as production as “comprised of legal, economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial management and operations.”

Several other Malaysian palm oil plantation companies are expected to be certified in the near future.

Gluten-Free: Where To?

Some product categories will be in great demand in 2009. Gluten-free products have been set to evolve from niche to mainstream, but previous predictions for this category have fallen short. While estimates of customers choosing gluten-free products are in the scores of millions, the number of people who have an actual diagnosis of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance is only 1-3 percent of the population.

That gluten-free industry is still capable of significant growth is evident when General Mills (, Minneapolis, replaced barley malt syrup in its Rice Chex cereal with molasses and adopted the necessary steps to prevent cross-contamination during production. (Ironically, the predominant gluten intolerance is often limited to wheat gluten.)

Mary’s Gone Crackers (, Gridley, Calif., formulated Sticks and Twigs, a whole-grain, crunchy snack, to be gluten-free. Nevertheless, its popularity among those who are not sensitive to gluten prompted founder Mary Waldner to launch gluten-free Mary’s Gone Cookies, which has developed a similar following with the non-celiac crowd.

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