A recently convened seminar attended by European Commissioner David Byrne has highlighted impressive growth in Ireland's functional foods and nutraceuticals sector. Michael Duffy, chief executive of the Irish government's food agency, Board Bia, said at the meeting that Irish companies need to respond to increased consumer interest in well-being and health with functional, lifestyle-targeted products and ingredients.
"There are two major factors driving growth in the health, nutrition and functional foods market," Duffy said. "Firstly, changing consumer lifestyles and attitudes to health, with growing time pressures and the snacking culture, contribute to less attention being paid to regular meals. Consumers are now seeking convenient health food solutions.
"Secondly, the desire of manufacturers to add value to their products in very competitive food and drink markets—Irish companies need to move up the value chain and differentiate their products."
Duffy also warned Irish companies that they needed to be aware of increased EU legislation that gives consumers protection against misleading or false benefit claims.
Breakfast cereals, dairy spreads and probiotic drinks were the fastest growing segments of the market, Duffy said. The agency advised Irish food and supplements manufacturers to liaise with retailers in developing their health and lifestyle products such as food allergy and food intolerance products or gender-based product ranges.
Martin Murray, founder and former president of the Irish Health Trade Association and CEO of herbal medicine manufacturer, New Vistas, agreed it is an exciting time for the wellness sector.
"There is more interest in health foods than there has ever been in Ireland," he said. "It's been growing for the past six or seven years. It is being driven by a high level of concern regarding the use of chemical medicines and by food scares such as the feeding of oestrogen and pharmaceutical waste to pigs that took place in Holland last year."
The buying public was also getting a lot younger, and more masculine, he said. "Ten years ago the majority of our customers were women over 40. Now there are a lot more men and women in their 20s and 30s buying our supplements. Women like herbs and men like vitamin supplements."
Board Bia estimates the Irish market is valued at $25 milllion, with about 35 companies manufacturing both ingredients and end-products in the functional foods and nutraceuticals area.