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Wellness Food Trends for 2010

Nov. 23, 2009
Our annual look at the future of better-for-you foods.
Five Nuts to Watch in 2010

Nuts of all types have had their ups and downs as far as the American diet is concerned. They lost ground in low-fat diets of the past millennium, their carbohydrates were scorned by the Atkins diet and nuts were further scarred by the Peanut Corp. of America salmonella contamination early this year.

But they keep bouncing back. Why? Because nuts are excellent sources of protein, minerals, monounsaturated fats and other nutrients, and they’re good for the heart. And consumers increasingly are getting those messages.

Nuts in 2003 received the FDA’s first qualified health claim for a food: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” The FDA announcement was in response to a petition from the International Tree Nut Council’s (INC) Nutrition Research & Education Foundation.

“More than 30 studies have shown that including nuts in the diet can reduce the risk of heart disease regardless of the individual nut studied,” said Guy Johnson, at the time nutrition consultant to INC and author of the INC health claim petition. In addition to being good sources of unsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, most nuts contain a variety of other potential cardio-protective components such as vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, copper, potassium, betasitosterol and omega-3 fatty acids.

Five healthy nuts to watch (and include in your formulations) in the new year:

  • Almonds: Just a quarter cup of almonds contains nearly 25 percent of the recommended daily value of magnesium, plus significant amounts of potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. In fact, a quarter cup of almonds has almost as much calcium as a quarter cup of milk. They also make for a healthy colon. A study found that animals (which were exposed to a colon-cancer-causing agent) given whole almonds had fewer signs of colon cancer than animals given almond oil or no almonds. Researchers suspect the benefit may be due to almonds’ high fiber content. And because 70 percent of the fat they contain is the healthy monounsaturated variety, they are believed to believed to lower cholesterol.
  • Walnuts: Full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to protect the heart, walnuts may promote better cognitive function and provide anti-inflammatory benefits for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and psoriasis. And their antioxidant compound ellagic acid is known to fight cancer and support the immune system.
  • Cashews: Not just bar or party food, cashews are gaining formulation respect because they are lower in fat than most nuts, and 65 percent of this fat is unsaturated fatty acids. Of this, 90 percent is oleic acid, the heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. They’re also good sources of copper, magnesium, zinc, iron and biotin.
  • Pecans: Another nut with significant proof that it lowers cholesterol. Clinical research studies evaluating the impact of pecans on serum cholesterol have found pecans can significantly help lower blood cholesterol when consumed as part of a heart-healthy diet, according to the National Pecan Shellers Assn. They also an excellent source of 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamins E and A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, several B vitamins and zinc.
  • Macadamia Nuts: While having some of the highest levels of calories (200 per serving) and total fat (22g), they’re also the highest in monounsaturated fat. Macadamias are high in protein, fiber, potassium and magnesium. And since most come from Hawaii, they have cachet.

The argument can be made that, in an economic meltdown that turned R&D into “Wait and See,” trying to hit on what are the coming health and wellness food trends is merely throwing punches in the dark. The past year’s fiscal fiasco sent many a good company reeling. But the good news is a number of industries — not just food and beverage makers — are starting to stagger back to their feet and focus on ways to improve their positions.

Perhaps the biggest message sent to the food processing industry was the tsunami of a backlash -- by both consumers and feds (in the form of the FDA) -- to the “Smart Choice” front-of-package labeling campaign. This was a wellness foods debacle that led to cereals and snacks -- with half their content as sugar and loaded with artificial colors and flavors -- being touted as health foods.

We won’t point fingers here, but to all the big names that signed on and spent untold dollars, the smaller processors owe you a debt of gratitude. You opened the door for the little guys to not only keep but gain a bigger slice of the healthy pie by doing what they always do: being honest and sincere in creating good-for-you products. Rule No. 1 of any business: Respect the consumer. Now that the doors are cracked, here are the trends forecasted to throw them wide open.

Simple and Sweet

“A recent study Puratos sponsored shows 77 percent of consumers read ingredient statements on packaging and are using nutritional information to make their purchasing decisions,” says Matt Crumpton, vice president of marketing for Puratos USA (www.puratos.com), a Cherry Hill, N.J., maker of bakery and pastry ingredients and flavors. “It is a challenge to the food industry to develop healthier solutions that meet the taste and ingredient expectations of today’s ever-more demanding consumers.”

And what consumers are demanding is clear. “The new consumer mantra when it comes to health and wellness is ‘simple,’” says Kimberly Carson, director of beverage solutions for Sensient Flavors LLC (www.sensient-tech.com), Indianapolis. “Already there are products on grocery store shelves with ‘simple’ and ‘simply’ on the package, referencing both a simplification of the ingredient statement as well as…healthier ingredients.”

Nestle’s Haagen-Dazs capitalized on the fewer-is-better movement with the Five line -- only five ingredients in each variety.

Joy Dubost, principal nutritionist for PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y., agrees. “Food labels will continue to focus on ‘greener and cleaner.’ Consumer demand for the least complicated ingredient list on a product will continue to increase, favoring [such qualities] as no additives or preservatives.”

Witness Haagen-Dazs’ Five. The all-natural ice cream, which debuted early this year, is made with only five ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and the selected flavor of the ice cream variety (vanilla, milk chocolate, coffee, mint, ginger, passion fruit, brown sugar).

This is backed up by Innova Market Insights (www.innovadatabase.com), Duiven, Netherlands. The global consumer research group places simplicity in its top spot for trends to expect for 2010. “The downturn is making people nostalgic for simpler times and simpler foods,” the market research company notes in its just-released, “Top Ten New Food Product Development Trends for 2010” analysis. “The interest in ‘back to basics’ has driven interest in natural and clean-label foods.”

Sweeteners are at an interesting crossroads because of the simplicity trend. Sensient’s Carson notes the clear consumer attitude toward both simple and sweet, highlighting increased focus on natural sweeteners such as agave, stevia, turbinado sugar, honey and cane sugar. “In addition to natural sweeteners, consumers are also driving innovation in the low-sugar beverage area,” she points out. Sensient is meeting this trend with a newly developed portfolio of solutions including natural masking solutions and natural fruit flavors.

On the full-calorie side, sugar is regaining some lost ground at the expense of high-fructose corn syrup. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi launched summertime-only products this year sweetened with cane sugar.

On the low-cal side, consumers who long feared “artificial” sweeteners were elated by the December 2008 FDA approval of plant extract stevia, more precisely its rebaudioside-A extract. “The benefits are undeniable for a non-caloric, natural sweetener that also offers excellent taste,” says Cecilia McCollum, executive vice president of supplier Blue California (www.bluecal-ingredients.com), Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

“2010 is going to be the year of reb-A,” predicts Jordi Ferre, vice president and general manager of PureCircle USA (www.purecircle.com), Oak Brook, Ill. “You’re going to see a number of product intros in beverage and dairy especially.”

But McCollum also warns of the downside of such a gold rush. “There are newcomers [reb-A suppliers] with ‘paper certificates,’ no validation, no audit reports, suppliers who cannot provide their manufacturing address, so beware. My recommendation is not only to look for GRAS documentation but also to demand independent audit reports of the manufacturing plant in order to ensure the quality of the product.”

Functional starches and fibers, such as inulin and pea flour, are finding their way into more products as consumers seek out more digestive health options.

Dubost sees better-informed consumers “seeking functional health benefits beyond such basics as antioxidant action,” for example. He also predicts “attention to more esoteric functional ingredient properties, such as anti-inflammatory action, will begin to climb.” The anti-inflammatory trend is part of the growing interest in immunity, especially as inflammatory response has been linked to obesity, cancer and heart disease.Function follows form

Such diseases and dysfunctions will continue to be the focus of makers of better-for-you foods, and for an oft-repeated reason: We’re getting older. “There will be more products specifically targeted to the aging population, so they can maintain cognitive and physical function later in life,” Scott Bush, vice president of health and nutrition marketing for Madison, Wis.-based Danisco USA (www.danisco.com).

A Gluten-Free Comeback

While two years ago we noted gluten-free still hadn’t exploded into the big movement it was trying to be, that is about to change. Holding the category back was a disconnect between the number of people with the diagnosed medical need to be on a gluten-free diet — only a couple or so percent of the population have celiac disease— and a haphazard approach to making gluten-free items people could eat without feeling compromised.

But research increasingly is backing up claims that millions more people are at least somewhat sensitive to this protein compound found in wheat (similar forms of gluten in rye, oats and barley thus far have proven a problem for only a very small group.) The gluten-free category is certainly going to rise to meet a consumer demand based on this research, which includes emerging studies showing gluten-free diets to be helpful for ameliorating symptoms associated with a wide variety of top-of-the-mind diseases and dysfunctions, such as ADHD, Autism, depression, chronic fatigue and general digestive health.

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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