Baby Boomer Nutrition High Priority for Food Processors

Aug. 6, 2008
Nutrition has become baby boomers’ antidote for most of the negative effects of aging.
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Baby boomers are regarded as an important generation for food and beverage marketers, partly because of their needs and partly because they tend to have high disposable incomes. Nutrition has a pivotal role in the health and anti-aging efforts of baby boomers. In fact, nutrition is increasingly a popular boomer antidote to growing old.

Anti-aging and vitality are enduring themes among baby boomers. Boomers are using nutrition to take the sting out of age-related complaints including pain, memory loss, fatigue, indigestion and declining vision (for a discussion of the food and beverage role in eye health).

Functional foods and beverages are becoming popular solutions to heart health, diabetes, hypertension, chronic pain and joint issues – chronic ailments plaguing boomers.

Food processors take note: According to Metlife Mature Market Institute (, Hartford, Conn., one out of every four Americans is a boomer, and they are investing a growing proportion of their $2 trillion in expenditures in 2007 on foods and beverages that meet their desire for youth and vitality.

A healthy ticker

Heart health is one of the greatest concerns for boomers, especially following the questionable American diet of the past few decades. A number of food ingredients, both naturally occurring and easily added, are addressing this concern.

Mars Inc. set the world on its ear in 2006 when it started marketing chocolate as a heart-health food. Its launch of the CocoaVia brand, based on company research into cocoa flavanols, created a rage that delighted boomers with sweet tooths and has been copied by other chocolate companies the world over.

“Dark chocolate contains high levels of antioxidant flavanols,” says Renee Kopkowski, director of corporate communications for Mars Snackfood US (, Hackettstown, N.J. Mars pioneered cocoa flavanol scientific research for more than 15 years in partnership with some of the world's most respected universities and institutions, including Harvard University and the University of California-Davis. As a result, Mars holds more than 30 patents related to flavanols, including a process to retain much of these compounds during processing of the cocoa.

In addition, the company established Mars Botanical last year as a new scientific division of Mars Inc. to market cocoa flavanols.

“Coronary heart disease and cholesterol management are key issues for boomers,” says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs and communications manager at Cargill Inc. (, Wayzata, Minn. “Clinical studies support the cholesterol lowering power of phytosterols – plant-derived sterols and stanols,” says Stauffer.

Cargill has a list of ingredients for heart health: CoroWise plant sterols for cholesterol reduction, Barliv barley beta glucan and Leci PC phosphatidylcholine. And for other boomer ailments: Leci PS phosphatidylserine for brain health and, for joint health, Arthred Hydrolyzed collagen and Regenasure glucosamine.

Omega-3 fatty acids are key nutrients essential for heart health. The anti-inflammatory action of long-chain predominantly marine-sourced eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) fatty acids and the shorter-chain plant-derived alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may be added to a variety of food products through advances in micro-encapsulation and other ingredient coating technologies.

“Omega-3 fatty acids with the right balance of natural vegetable oils are the key to changing our lipid profile” explains Rick Werner, vice president and general manager of Smart Balance (, Boulder, Colo. Its original spread started out with “the perfect blend of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats,” as determined by researchers at Brandeis University, as a way to improve cholesterol, but the company since has added omega-3s  to improve the health profile.

Smart Balance has branched out into a range of food products, including popcorn, peanut butter and even milk, all aimed at lowering cholesterol. The message and health benefits are hitting home with baby boomers, who are exhibiting a heightened consciousness of their lipid numbers.

Likewise, Unilever (, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is taking advantage of the FDA heart-health claim and endorsement from the National Cholesterol Education Program to promote these fat soluble compounds in Promise activ SuperShots. These refrigerated mini-drinks (100ml/3.3-oz.) help consumers remove cholesterol from their system.

Unilever’s long-term investment in helping consumers manage their cholesterol is evident by the patents filed for processes and food and ingredient compositions comprising statins. A group of pharmaceutical compounds – atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, and simvastatin – statins are used commonly to reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. They work by blocking the action of a liver enzyme needed to make cholesterol. Unilever is banking that statin-enriched soybean oil will offer consumers the pleasure of fried foods without the cholesterol downside.

In terms of naturalness and simplicity, it’s hard to beat oat fiber, which has proven particularly powerful at lowering levels of LDL cholesterol. The Quaker Oats Co. (, Chicago, had the first product to receive the FDA heart-health claim: oatmeal. But the PepsiCo division is building the franchise with, among other things, its Take Heart Instant Oatmeal line.

Cereal manufacturers followed. General Mills Inc. (, Minneapolis, made heart-healthfulness a key claim for its Cheerios brand, which is made from whole grain oats. Kellogg Co. (, Battle Creek, Mich., went a step further by developing the Smart Start Healthy Heart line, which, in addition to oat bran, includes  includes psyllium fiber plus potassium.

Creaky bones
Whether it’s arthritis, osteoporosis or a number of other bone and joint issues, baby boomers learn the hard way that 50- or 60-year-old parts don’t operate as well as new ones.

Aging wears down the joint cartilage. So do physically active lifestyles and high impact sports. Nevertheless, vitality and physical activity are important for baby boomers. Marketers are taking note that some 70 million boomers and adults are affected by chronic joint inflammation, pain and stiffness.

The National Institutes of Health sponsored a clinical trial – “Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial” ( – between 2000 and 2004 that concluded the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin provided significant pain relief for sufferers of osteoarthritis. Despite that, glucosamine chondroitin failed to win an FDA health claim in 2004. Still, legions of fans take pill supplements several times a day. Supplemental glucosamine provides the building blocks for cartilage production. Chondroitin sulfate, another component of the cartilage, helps it retain water and prevents it from becoming brittle.

Cargill offers Regenasure, a self-affirmed GRAS ingredient, available as HCl glucosamine and in a sulfate version. Formulating with Regenasure is facilitated by the fact that it is highly soluble and clean tasting. The drop-in formulation is attractive to formulators as is the fact that it is shellfish allergen-free, vegetarian source and Kosher/Halal certified.

Drinks seem to be particularly good carriers of glucosamine chondroitin. The popularity of joint relief is obvious from the recent rollout of products. They include the mainstream Minute Maid Active Pure Squeezed Orange Juice from the Coca Cola Co.; to juice drink Elations from Elations Co., Cincinnati; to Fitness Water from aptly named Joint Juice Inc., San Francisco.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) similarly has been used in pill form for joint health. At the June IFT Food Expo, TandemRain Innovations, Vancouver, Wash., launched ActivMSM, what it claims is the first MSM product to have GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation for food and beverage formulations. TandemRain offers to work with food processors interested in developing ActivMSM formulations for functional foods and beverages, especially yogurt, yogurt drinks and smoothies, nutrition bars and sports drinks.

Calcium has a very important role in boomer nutrition. Understanding its role and effects are essential for ingredient selection and formulation. NutraFlora, a fructooligosaccharide ingredient primarily developed as a prebiotic (more on that later), also has the ability to significantly enhance calcium absorption, notes Trina O’Brien, marketing manager for Golden, Colo.-based GTC Nutrition (

“Natural vitamin K2 actually directs calcium to the proper place and helps build a stronger, more flexible bone,” says Rodger Jonas, vice president of technical sales at PL Thomas (, Morristown, N.J. The self-affirmed GRAS vitamin K2 brand MQ7 is credited with activating the deposition of calcium in the bones and inhibiting the calcification of vascular systems. Jonas predicts market penetration in 2009 and claims that several food product launches are planned this year with MQ7, which he says already is popular in dietary supplements.

Digestive and immune health

Spice Up Aging Taste Buds

With aging comes some degeneration of olfactory nerves and a diminished sense of smell and taste. But boomers, with broad life experiences and a greater zest for life than ever before, seek spicier, higher-flavor foods to tickle their dulled senses.

Some spices that have both nutraceutical properties and high taste impact:
> Turmeric – the super spice – and its active compound curcumin lend a beautiful yellow richness to foods and beverages and may help keep the brain young and help improve memory.
> Cinnamon, with its insulin-like properties, may help boomers control blood sugar levels.
> Cumin, with anti-carcinogenic properties and a very good source of iron, is traditionally noted for its benefit to the digestive system and stimulation of pancreatic enzymes necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation.
> Garlic is a source of anticancer compounds including allicin, allixin, allyl sulfides, and quercetin, and does wonders for practically any savory food product.
> Green herbs – dill, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and thyme – come with generous amounts of phytochemicals and antioxidants, often exceeding the antioxidant activity of many fruits and vegetables.

Scientific evidence is pouring in that spices and herbs do more than just flavor our food – they add color, variety, flavor, aroma and help with preservation. Potent herb extracts such as Inolens4 from Vitiva (of Slovenia) are label-friendly protection against rancidity, taste change and color alteration, instead of synthetic antioxidants that are also associated with allergies, sensitivities, plus possible links to carcinogenity and mutagenicity.

Probiotics, a gauge of a healthy intestinal tract and naturally found in dairy products, are now being formulated into a variety of products across all categories. Probiotics and prebiotics are finding their way into the vocabularies of the baby boom generation.

“The short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) in NutraFlora are ideal for the probiotics naturally occurring in the gut,” according to GTC Nutrition’s O’Brien. The natural prebiotic fiber, derived from beet or cane sugar, is reportedly the highest concentration of pure scFOS obtained from a natural fermentation method and crucial for digestive health across all ages.

“Busy lifestyles, large meals, late dinners and other stresses can lead to an overworked digestive system,” points out Kathy Oneto, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Attune Foods Inc. (, San Francisco. Attune incorporates probiotics from Fonterra, a New Zealand-based marketer of dairy ingredients, to promote digestive health, ease the discomfort and boost general immunity.

Fonterra’s collaboration with Danisco (, New Century, Kan., on the latter’s branded Howaru probiotics also is good news for processors seeking a boost in this space. Howaru is a range of specific premium probiotic strains – health-enhancing bacteria that today are widely used in dairy, dietary supplements and nutritional products. Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli and other strains have been specially developed for improved functionality and bioavailability.

Big Horn, Wyo. -based Gourmetceuticals’ ( GLPH-1 is a polysaccharide extracted from the cell wall of yeast (Candidus utilis) and is clinically proven to boost immune health. With anti-inflammatory activity via multiple mechanisms, the polysaccharide approved for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical consumption in Europe, comes in liquid or water-soluble powder forms for drop-in formulation into foods such as cereal and bars.

Whey contains a range of proteins -- including beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycol-macropeptide, albumin, immunoglobulins and lactoferrin – each with unique composition and functionalities that include immunity boosting. LactoMune is a whey protein concentrate from Stolle Wellness Products (, Cincinnati. Research Vice President Bob Stohrer says dairy cows treated with immune stimulants produce milk with greater proportions of certain components with enhanced biological activity. Stolle Wellness’ proprietary processing methods allow for minimal heat to reduce damage during extraction. The milk protein concentrate from the same milk is marketed as MicroLactin for joint health support.

LactoMune (self-affirmed GRAS) is a relatively inexpensive, easy-to-process and soluble protein with four to five times the biological activity of soluble whey proteins. The MPC Microlactin (self-affirmed GRAS) has a creamier mouthfeel and is especially robust in acidic beverages when homogenized with small amounts of hydrocolloids such as pectins, alginates or carrageenans. Both ingredients are popular in a number of commercial food and beverage products in Japan and are being investigated for commercialization in the U.S.

“Regardless of how healthy the product, what boomers put in their mouths has to really taste very good,” says Karl Gradon, vice president of business development in Fonterra’s ( U.S. office in Schaumburg, Ill. Fonterra is rolling out several ingredients to help processors resolve every complaint on the palate front of nutrient-rich functional beverages. Clean-tasting notes are particularly important for difficult-to-formulate shelf-stable beverages enriched with proteins and vitamins – nutrients that tend to have undesirable taste.

“Protein beverages are ideal for boosting boomers’ intake of essential nutrients and ensuring comprehensive nutrition especially during periods of stress, but have historically been shunned because of their notorious taste and chalky mouthfeel,” says Gradon. Fonterra’s PowerProtein range of MPC ingredients allows for smooth creamy taste with clean taste profiles with the added benefit of satiety.

Memory retention ranks high in the boomers’ quest for retaining vitality. Researchers at the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School, both in the UK, found blueberries can effectively prevent and even reverse age-related brain deficits including short-term memory loss.
“Blueberries are a major source of anthocyanins and flavanols,” according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (, Folsom, Calif. “In addition to enhancing short-term and long-term memory, they may also reduce the risk of age-related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, by preventing the effects of free radicals.”

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