The legal status of functional foods called Tokutei Hokenyo Shokuhin in Japanese, translates into Foods for Specified Health Use, known as FOSHU outside of Japan. Under the Nutrition Improvement Law of 1991, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare (now renamed as Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW)) started to legislate for the labelling of health claims on five groups of functional foods entitled Foods for Special Dietary Use. They are:
- Foods for special diets.
- Foods for pregnant or breast-feeding women
- Foods for infants
- Foods for aging persons
- Foods for specified health use (FOSHU), which are foods that may improve specific health conditions.
The law has now been implemented and as of May this year, 252 products are permitted to carry both the FOSHU logo and a specific health claim on the package label.
After 10 years of publicity and public education, Japanese consumers have started to recognise FOSHU products in the marketplace. The consumer survey conducted by the industry trade organisation Japan Health Food & Nutrition Food Association (JHFNA), showed that 65 per cent of people aged 35-55 are aware of the FOSHU products and 22 per cent of those surveyed report using FOSHU products regularly.
Since 1999, the FOSHU market has shown tremendous growth, thanks to big corporations such as Kao, Yakult, Calpis, Snow and others. These companies have brought both their well-established products and their new products into the FOSHU framework and instantly doubled the market size and, at the same time, accelerated the recognition among the public.
Now, MHLW has overhauled its regulations to accept more products that have been clinically proven and as a result more innovative products have been launched onto the market. "More companies will participate in FOSHU in the future" predicted Mr. Ishida, a director of FOSHU department at JHNFA. "The new regulation allowed products to 'express enhanced health claim statements' on a package. This is the second stage of functional foods in Japan and without a doubt an exiting time," he added.
Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates Inc. New York. USA which publishes a functional food market report, 'Japan's Nutraceuticals' and the report, 'FOSHU 2001'.