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NBJ Top Picks: Functional Food and Beverage Trends for 2010

Despite the start of a gruesome economic downturn, functional food and beverage product development has been on the rise in the United States over the last two years. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 785 foods and beverages with functional claims were launched in the United States in 2008 and 770 came out in 2009—up from 431 in 2007 and 193 in 2006. Although functional products now reside in nearly every product category and hit on a wide range of health conditions, a number of trends have emerged that promise to shape the functional food and beverage market in 2010 and beyond—as Nutrition Business Journal discusses in our recently published 2010 Functional Food and Beverage Issue.

Here's a recap of some of the top functional food and beverage trends for 2010:

Functional Sweeteners: More Than Just Sweet

In 2009, high fructose corn syrup was out (much to the chagrin of the Corn Refiners Association) and recently GRAS-approved stevia was in for its zero calories and improved sweet taste (thanks to companies such as Cargill and Wisdom Natural Brands). Stevia, which is typically combined with other natural sweeteners such as xylitol, can now be found in everything from zero-calorie natural colas to 100-calorie yogurt snacks. During the first eight months of 2009, Mintel reported that 110 U.S. products made with stevia were launched. DSM Nutrition Products is one company working to capitalize on stevia’s functional health benefits. In 2009, DSM applied for a patent linking stevia to improved brain function and cognitive health. NXT Nutritional’s SUSTA natural sweetener ingredient is already being marketed for its functional health benefits. According to Kimberly Lord Stewart, editorial director of NBJ’s sister publication Functional Ingredients Magazine, “Functional sweeteners are going to be one of the most important product trends to watch in 2010.”

Digestive Health: Here to Stay

Two words describe the U.S. digestive functional food and beverage market: still hot. And these products aren’t just popular in the United States, where Activia spokeswoman Jamie Lee Curtis has made it normal—and fun!—to talk about the woes of irregularity. According to Mintel, digestive health topped all other functional food and beverage health claims in 23 out of the 24 countries tracked by the global research firm. The most common products carrying a digestive health claim are spoonable yogurts, drinking yogurts and cultured milk, tea, cheese, and snacks/cereals/energy bars, Mintel reported.

EFSA Rejections Won’t Kill Probiotics

The ingredient category perhaps most tied to digestive health is probiotics. Although probiotics have taken a hit in Europe—to date, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has rejected every probiotic health claim it has reviewed—consumer and manufacturer interest in these healthy bugs continues to bloom. Technological innovations are enabling the cultivation of “designer” probiotic strains, as well as strains that can remain alive and active during processing. Ganeden Biotech’s patented probiotic strain GanedenBC30 is one showing up in a growing range of functional products, including Red Mango’s nonfat frozen yogurt and ice teas. Ingredient company Danisco announced in January 2010 that it is entering the niche—but growing—probiotic juice category with its probiotic strain HOWARU Bifido (Bifidobacterium lactis HN019). This will compete against Probi’s strain, which can be found in the GoodBelly brand from NextFoods.

Prebiotics: What Every Probiotic Needs

Research continues to demonstrate that probiotics work better when combined with prebiotic fibers, such as fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), inulin and galacto-oligosaccaride (GOS), said Functional Ingredients Magazine Science Editor Todd Runestad, who added that he believes GOS could be the “big winner in the year ahead.” That’s because food formulators are beginning to formulate with GOS, which also benefits from the fact that companies can make fiber claims for it. One new prebiotic drink is PRE Beverage Co.’s PRE Probiotic Enhancer.

Fiber Bulks Up

Fiber sells—just ask General Mills, which is raking in revenue with its successful Fiber One brand. Today, consumers can find everything from “double fiber” sliced bread from Oroweat to fiber-fortified applesauce cups from Mott’s. The surge in fiber-packed foods was driven, in part, by the 2005 revision of the U.S. food pyramid, which emphasized the need for more fiber in the American diet.

‘Back to Basics’ Mentality Spurs Cleaner Labels

Consumers are embracing a “back to basics” mentality that favors simple, healthy foods and beverages. Companies are hoping to tap into this trend by developing natural lines with clean labels that emphasize the inherent functional benefits of whole food ingredients, such as fruit and whole grains. One example is Hero’s new Fruit2day beverages.

H1N1, Recession-Related Stress Push Immunity Center Stage

“Two years ago it was hard to sell an immune-support ingredient to food and beverage manufacturers,” said David Walsh, vice president of communications at Biothera, which makes the Wellmune ingredient. But that was before the economic meltdown and the H1N1 pandemic—both of which forced people to think more about supporting their immune systems. Wellmune, which has been clinically proven to enhance the immune system and can be consumed daily, is showing up in a growing range of products, including cookies and juices.

Culinary Spices: Tasty and Good For You Too

Cinnamon and turmeric are two culinary spices being studied for their health benefits. “Science is beginning to accumulate on a number of spices,” said Guy Johnson, executive director of the McCormick Science Institute, which is working to increase the scientific understanding of culinary spices. This research is spurring the creation of products such as Vosges Haut-Chocolat’s Naga chocolate bar, which features sweet Indian curry.

Subscribers can read NBJ’s full 2010 Functional Food and Beverage Issue via the NBJ Website. To order a copy or become a subscriber visit the NBJ subscription page.

Related NBJ links:

February 2010: Functional Food and Beverage

U.S. Functional Sales Slow, but Category Outpaces Overall Food Sector in '09

SUSTA Aims to Transform the Sweetener Business

Functionally Fortified Products Still Dominate the U.S. Market

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