Don’t make rookie mistakes marketing functional foods

Even marketing titan Coca-Cola has blown it.

Companies looking to capitalize on the $43 billion global functional foods sector should not let marketing trump research, cautioned attorney Alan Feldstein of the law firm Collins, McDonald & Gann at the SupplySide West trade show.

The global market is estimated to grow to $54 billion by 2017, according to Leatherhead Food Research. But case studies indicate how companies can properly and successfully launch functional food products—as well as how companies can get dinged by regulators for making a range of rookie mistakes.

Among the more common mistakes are trying to fortify junk food, as when Coca-Cola tried to fortify Diet Coke Plus with vitamins and minerals.

“What they tried to do is turn soda into a product that had some health benefits,” said Feldstein. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

The FDA came down on Coca-Cola for that one, showing that even marketing titans are liable to make mistakes.

Another similar example is Gamer Grub, a snack food marketed to video game players and referred to as a pizza-flavored performance snack. The problem here was its proprietary blend of choline and L-glutamic acid, and the fact that foods are not allowed to have proprietary blends—a tactic some supplement companies use to maintain a competitive advantage by not giving away their exact formulation.

On the other side, Knudson’s Simply Nutritious drink contains ginger and echinacea, with a dosage of 960 mg echinacea, which is considered an efficacious dose. The company has been able to successfully market the product.

Feldstein laid out common-sense principles that should govern a company’s efforts to successfully launch a functional food or beverage.

  • Truthful advertising, in net, has to not be misleading
  • Substantiate claims
  • Don’t let marketing overrule common sense
  • Functionalize foods that already have some health benefit, and not empty-calorie snacks or drinks. Examples include probiotics in yogurt, or antioxidants in ketchup
  • Beware the fairy dust principle—use enough of an ingredient to be effective and that support the claims being made
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