Whole-food connectivity

Keep it simple (or at least easy to accept)

In harsh economic times, with food scares around every corner, consumers are beginning to go back to simple comforts. That means more natural, whole foods. And it points to integrating functional ingredients with finished-food offerings that appear to consumers to be a more natural fit.

Heart-health sterols in margarine? That was an incongruous message that confounded consumers weaned on advice that margarine is bad for heart health. No surprise it hasn't been widely embraced. Sterols in healthful orange juice? Brilliant!

"It's having the connection between the ingredient and the food, like psyllium in cereal or beta-glucan in oatmeal," says Ian Newton, managing director of Ceres Consulting.

Probiotics in dairy offerings is a good example. Because they've long been associated with yoghurt — good idea. (That dairy also is a refrigerated product, which dovetails nicely with shelf-life issues surrounding live active bacteria, is a nice bonus.)

Probiotics are being shotgunned into a vast array of product types. The market will decide which are good ideas and which, not so much. Probiotic cereal sounds decent because milk goes with cereal. Probiotic chocolate bars? That one's a wait and see.

"The trend overall is we are going to be seeing a more 'whole-food approach' and the goodness of natural," says Kelley Fitzpatrick, president of NutriTech Consulting. "Like sterols in orange juice, you've got to have a connectivity with the consumer."

Suppliers are beginning to respond with strategies that include petitioning ingredients for GRAS status for specific food or beverage applications that are a more compatible fit.

For example, PL Thomas gained GRAS status for its MenaQ-7 brand vitamin K2 specifically for dairy. "We started with dairy because the best source of natural vitamin K2 in Western diets is fermented cheese, so it seemed natural to apply for dairy first," says Eric Anderson, PL Thomas' brand manager. "K2 is also essential for calcium utilization. It seemed like a logical fit."

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