Top 10 EU trends for functional ingredients

Words like "authentic," "sustainable" and "simplistic" are emerging as 2010 consumer trends in the EU. Other categories finding ways to rise to the top of consumer minds are immunity (thanks to swine flu), energy (thanks to working harder for less in this economy) and clean & free labels (thanks to food safety concerns), according to Innova Market Insights. How will ingredients and products fare in the EU with tighter regulatory constraints is anyone's guess.

Trend #1: Sense of Simplicity
The downturn is making people nostalgic for simpler times, and simpler foods. The interest in "back to basics" has driven interest in natural and clean-label foods. More natural ingredients, including natural sweeteners extracted from source such as apple, agave and maple syrup, are on the rise, and EU approval of the high-intensity natural sweetener stevia also looks close.

The natural trend has been particularly evident in beverages, with the Innova Database recording that over 13% of global soft drinks launches in the first 9 months of 2009 period were positioned on a "natural" platform, equivalent to nearly 1,000 products. While activity is dominated by bottled water and fruit drinks, both of which have the benefit of an inherently natural image, perhaps of most interest is the rising level of interest in natural carbonates, which is moving away from more specialist products and into the realms of the brand leaders.

Trend #2: Sustainable Gathers Steam
Increasingly well-informed consumers are looking for locally-sourced, more sustainable and fairly-traded products. While the organic trend has flattened in the downturn, fairtrade new product activity is continuing to rise, with major confectionery companies such as Cadbury and Mars making fairtrade commitments. The notion of carbon footprinting also looks set for a move into the mainstream.

Trend #3: Inherent Nutrition
It is a tough time to be in the functional foods business. Not only are strict EFSA policies demanding new dossiers on scientific support for well-established ingredients such as probiotics, but consumers are also becoming increasingly skeptical of foods that fail to provide an immediate benefit. Foods with more traditionally perceived benefits, such as fruit and vegetables and milk, will be pushed further as inherent health benefits are communicated.

Trend # 4: Functional Superstars
The relatively few healthy ingredients lucky enough to have survived EFSA's early rulings will move to the fore in functional foods, as others will be forced, for the moment, to rely on softer claims. With the pattern of EFSA decisions expressed thus far, it is difficult to predict exactly which ingredients will triumph, but tough times are definitely ahead for radical and obscure ingredients making outlandish claims.

Trend #5: Going Immune
Swine flu fears have fueled a demand for immunity boosting products in many countries, and we can expect ingredients such as probiotics and various antioxidants to be marketed on this platform in 2010. Manufacturers will have to be careful about overdoing claims, however. Danone has found itself in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK over claims that its Actimel probiotic drinks could help support children's natural defences and Kellogg's has already dropped an immunity claim it was using on Rice Krispies in the US.

Trend #6: New Delivery for Energy
"Energy" is the hot concept in functional foods, as stimulating ingredients are used in new applications. Energy shots, until this year an essentially US concept, have now well and truly arrived in Europe, with majors such as Coke and Red Bull getting in on the act. The "energy" concept is also increasingly hot in confectionery product activity, particularly for chewing gum.

Trend #7: "Free From" Rises
The gradual move toward more "gluten-free" and other "free-from" foods over the past few years accelerated in 2009 to involve some of the major players and to focus more on taste and quality. High-quality brands are emerging positioned as "easy to digest," "easy on the stomach" or "mild." At ANUGA there was even a product formulated with konjac gum addressing the needs of those with seafood allergies (Sophie's Kitchen), indicating that previously untapped markets are now starting to be addressed.

Trend #8: Continuing to Cook at Home
Grocery retailing is one of the few sectors smiling in the downturn and enjoying a boom in both budget and high-end products, while the mid-sector is squeezed. One of the catchphrases of 2009 was "Staying in is the new going out" and despite some indications of "green shoots of recovery" on the horizon, consumers do not have the confidence to foresee complete economic recovery as yet. Foodservice will continue to struggle for some time as consumers continue to rediscover their cooking and entertaining skills.

Trend #9: Extreme Flavors
Rising levels of interest in very hot products are being reported, with major brands such as Pringles launching Extreme Flavors. The 2010 World Cup in Africa is also raising interest in spicy foods from a continent full of cuisines previously largely ignored in western markets. New food varieties and styles will move to the fore.

Trend #10: Real Authenticity
It is no longer enough to simply create a product with a regional positioning; the product should be based on ingredients from that region and ideally even be produced there. Nestlé is hoping to catapult its Taste of Home concept into the mainstream in 2010, while UK retailer Asda recently announced its plans to launch the biggest-ever world foods range. With the growing number of immigrants and a rising interest in authenticity, regionally-produced foods will undoubtedly be on the rise.

Look for more on trends in the January 2010 issue of Functional Ingredients magazine.

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