Although the market seems set for further growth over the next five years, according to new findings from Leatherhead Food Research, there remains uncertainty over the future development of two functional food categories: products promoting heart health benefits and those that are marketed on an anti-ageing platform.
Confusion still exists around the concept of functional food, with consumers receiving a barrage of contradictory messages from companies, the media, and government and medical authorities on the benefits of different types of products and how they should be consuming them.
This has been a particular issue for phytosterol/phytostanol spreads, for example, which have had to compete against other heart-health polyunsaturated and omega-3 spreads, as well as other cholesterol-lowering foods, and as such have seen sales stall.
The value of the cholesterol-lowering spread market in the UK in 2009, for example, is forecast to be down by 10% on 2008 following a 10% decline in 2008 as well.
The regulatory situation is also key to the development of these markets, with the use of approved health claims increasing consumer confidence and allowing the market to develop along more clearly defined lines.
The US has had regulations permitting certain types of claims for some years, but even there, interpretation problems are causing difficulties. The ongoing review by the EFSA in the EU could change the market radically, with market size and structure potentially altering drastically when claims are allowed or disallowed.
The heart-benefit foods sector has done relatively well out of the EFSA review, with approval for some claims concerning phytosterols and phytostanols, plus the Fruitflow anti-thrombotic tomato extract.
Despite considerable interest, continuing product innovation (more than 150 product launches recorded between January 2007 and August 2009) and the fact that it's the largest sector of the functional foods market after digestive/gut health, the heart-benefit market remains relatively small in the context of the food market as a whole.
It accounts for less than 0.5% of the food and drinks markets across all countries covered in Leatherhead's research, despite relatively high penetration levels in the US and Japan, with levels falling as low as 0.1% in countries such as Italy, Germany and France. This does offer considerable potential for future development, though the target audience is likely to remain largely limited to those who perceive themselves to be at risk from heart disease.
Heart health ingredients
Key growth areas have been bakery and cereal products, due to the growing use of heart health claims relating to whole grains in the US; fish and eggs, due to the increased marketing of oily fish on a heart-health platform; dairy products, where the active health drinks market has taken off, and soft drinks.
The principal heart-health ingredients being used tend to be those where scientific evidence of their efficacy is strongest and include soya, unsaturated fatty acids (including omega-3s), phytostanol and phytosterol esters, dietary fibre, vitamins C and E, folic acid and potassium.
Using recent patent activity as a guide to future trends, it's clear that phytosterols and phytostanols remain a particularly active area, following on from the acceptance of products such as Benecol and Flora pro.activ into the mainstream.
Another significant growth area is likely to be that of anti-hypertensive products containing ACE-inhibitory bioactive peptides. A number of products are now on the market, but most focus either on the Calpis Ameal S ingredient from Japan or on Evolus technology from Valio of Finland. A greater variety of products are likely to be launched in the future using more diverse sources.
Ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids, meanwhile, face the problem of establishing recommended intake levels and their efficacy in terms of the number of different health benefits attributed to them, including heart, brain and eye development.
Assuming that the claims situation doesn't undergo radical change resulting in the repositioning of certain products away from heart health, particularly in the US, overall sales in the heart benefit food and drink sector look set to rise at least 40% over the 2009 to 2014 period to reach over $15.1bn.
Source: Leatherhead Food Research