Innovation is a survival skill

Creating a new and novel position in some form is an essential part of the functional business. In the next step beyond functional foods, advocates Chip Marsland, functional performance factors will one day be inherent in all new products, both in packaging and in the foods themselves

Imagine a day when a trip down supermarket aisles will not mean one aisle is for chips, another for cereals, another for dairy. Instead, foods are sold on functional performance factors — in this aisle are foods for active people like fast-digesting snacks with anti-inflammatory effects; in another, health and beauty foods — a nice euphemism for weight management.

Already, there are store sections for sports nutrition, as well it should be since the world?s first functional food was Gatorade, which replaces potassium and salts lost by athletes and in the process helps them perform better. So why can?t the food industry evolve to make performance factors inherent in every food, for every demographic in society? People pay money to avoid pain, people pay to get better from illness and they?ll pay to feel good. So why not lifestyle foods?

Innovating the future
The baby steps the food industry is taking today presents itself as replacing unhealthy ingredients with better-for-you ones ? polyols and dihydrochalcones from citrus fruits instead of sugar, whole grains instead of refined white bread, resistant starches for flour. It?s all for the good to develop healthier alternatives to traditional foods. But we need to take a quantum leap. Nutrition, and more than that, functional performance, needs to trump price, at least some of the time.

For instance, do we need protein in the form of a hamburger? I don?t think so. Protein can be delivered in any form; why not deliver it in the form people prefer to eat? Some are savoury eaters, some are sweet. Ultimately to the consumer, having a more nutritive delivery of products is where we should be going.

Unfortunately for consumers, the lowest common denominator is working today — price — and it?s the killer of products. Still, we need to explore creating a better potato with higher fibre to replace the unhealthy french fry. What about a film that protects the fry from absorbing oils during the deep-fry process? What about more corn fibre to reduce the calories in chips? How about amino acid stacks, a la athletic supplements, in regular foods?

There are things we as food product developers can do to foods or beverages that provide functional characteristics. Look at what Atkins did — took a whole food group and eliminated it from the diet. That?s thinking outside the box!

Performance power
Companies with innovation laced in their DNA will create true next-generation foods — because white bread and doughnuts are not the answer for the world?s 21st century food staple. Businesses ought to learn a systematic approach of assessing the nutrient value of foods based on comparative costs, daily nutrition requirements, caloric factors and associated functional purpose. From this, low-calorie and nutrient-rich functional foods will be the mainstream foods of the future.

Let?s work for the day when all foods will have a Performance Index on the label. People live a lifestyle and their diet has to fit with their lifestyle. For consumers, what it comes down to is ultimately knowing what foods do to you. From the product development side, it?s an advantage to explain how this food does the following.

Are we ready for that? In some categories, but not all. Product developers must appeal to a mass population to make a difference, and with the food business they?re not quite there yet. But to create different categories — instead of merely better ingredients for the same old foods — now that?s an idea we can all sink our teeth into.

Chip Marsland is the founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Betafoods Corp, a functional nutrition technology, product development and licensing company. He is a chemical engineer, technology and product development specialist, protein scientist and psychoactives researcher.

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