Regulatory changes in Europe, coupled with the country's first national health initiative, are expected to position France as a desirable consumer market. Sue Blanchard reports on a changing climate in the world's fourth largest economy.
With a population of 60 million and the second-largest economy in western Europe, France's nutraceuticals and functional foods market will continue its already healthy expansion. Based on production and consumption trends, the French industry was valued at $5.3 billion to $7 billion in 2000, representing an annual growth rate of five to 10 per cent, according to research analyst Euromonitor International. France currently holds a 3.5 per cent share of the global functional foods market.
Although herbal supplements took a nosedive with a mere four per cent growth in 2001, French herbal extracts saw a hefty 15 per cent increase—true success when compared with the three to five per cent increase in ingredients' growth in general during the same period.
Another possible scenario is that EU standardisation could ban some herbs currently in use.
Trends in the French nutraceuticals market are somewhat different from those in the rest of Europe because consumers purchase nutritional products in the country's 25,000 pharmacies, and decisions are primarily based on physician prescriptions and pharmacist advice. "The French really trust and respect their pharmacists," says Christopher Taylor, regional director for Arkopharma, a leading French herbal extraction formulator.
Consumers also shop for supplements at specialty stores, most notably La Vie Claire, which opened in 1946 and now has 108 stores throughout France. Supplements account for 30 per cent of sales in these stores.
France has traditionally offered generous consumer reimbursement, which encourages doctor visits, the primary reason the French have been slow to catch on to the concept of self-medication. The trend against reimbursement is likely to change this, placing more health care responsibility on individuals and making France an appealing consumer market. An estimated 50 per cent of the population uses supplements; sales in 2000 were estimated at $368 million, a three per cent gain over the previous year. Ginkgo biloba alone accounted for 20 per cent of natural medicine sales, because it is positioned as an anti-ageing and varicose vein remedy, both big health concerns in France.
Statistics show that the French—who are known to shop twice daily to obtain the freshest of foods—haven't quite embraced the concept of functional foods, called alicaments. The word is derived from ailment and medicament (medicine). The French are, however, thirsty for beverages that appeal to their sense of taste and desire for enhanced health.
Probiotics alone represent 25 per cent of the new alicaments. Danone (world leader in chilled dairy products with $350 million in sales in 2001, a 40 per cent increase over the previous year) created the famous Actimel yoghurt drink with probiotics, which resulted in a 35 per cent penetration in France. Unlike companies in many other countries, French companies seem to understand the importance of education in promoting new ingredients. For example, milk producer Armor Proteines has launched an online consumer education newsletter called Vital News to promote the merits of milk proteins.
The attention given gut health has helped make sugar producer Beghin-Meiji the second-largest sugar supplier in Europe, claiming 38 per cent of the market share in France. EU consumption is one million tons of sugar annually, and the French consume 75 pounds per capita annually, according to Vincent Duvillier, general manager of Beghin-Meiji. The newest in the company's range of nutritional sugars is Actilight, a prebiotic product with bifidogenic effects, undergoing clinical trials.
Eridania offers a similar product, Actisucre, a sugar-stick sachet containing bifido fibres to encourage growth of healthy bacteria in the colon. Using another raw material for a comparable end result is Cerestar, which has recently launched probiotic C*Actistar, the first starch to act as a colonic nutrient.
Although functional foods have been slow to catch on in France, food industry analyst Laurent Weill of Paris-based SPRIM Box sees them as a growing trend, provided companies satisfy consumer need for price value, quality and safety. "In France, products must taste good. Also, parents here are deeply involved in the foods their children eat and advise schools on their menus."
Cultural changes and fast foods have resulted in serious health issues such as obesity (four million French people are obese), hypertension and diabetes, to which the government has responded with its first health initiative—Programme National Nutrition-Sante (PNNS), 20012005. One recommendation is that products that meet the programme's requirement would display a distinctive logo, offering incentive for food manufacturers and guidance for consumers.
"This will be positive for functional foods, since the food companies will have a clearer vision of which products they can use and in what quantities, and product launching will be less risky and quicker," said one analyst with F&S.
French supplier Bio-Serae has addressed the obesity issue with an innovative and clinically tested fat-binding ingredient called NeOpuntia, which is derived from the dehydrated leaves of the cactus plant Opuntia ficus-indica. This ingredient is suitable for both supplements and foods such as chocolate, cereals and bars.
Beverages continue to be France's fastest-growing functional foods/nutraceuticals segment, according to Euromonitor. Nestlé Waters recently launched Contrex Ligne et Beauté and Contrex Ligne et Tonus, waters containing vitamins, fruit juices and plant extracts. Fruits et Fleurs is a low-calorie beverage with ginger, plant and fruit extracts.
Candia, a functional milk formulator, sells 1.5 million litres a year and targets specific market sectors, including a children's formula with iron and a slimming formula for weight-conscious women. The Lactalis Group in Mayenne responds to consumer preference for calcium from milk with its calcium phosphate ingredients Calciane and Prolacta 90, both derived from milk. A leader for food milk ingredients is Ingredia, which markets the stress-reducing properties of Prodiet F 200, a hydrolysate of milk protein containing bioactive peptide.
As for the future of the French market, analysts agree that a lot depends on the forthcoming Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive and on health care reform. The ageing French population and the trend toward self-care will clearly have a positive effect on the industry.
"Products which mix vitamins and dietary supplements marketed to specific demographic and gender groups, combined with increased consumer worries about food safety and a general interest in organic practices, will help to increase sales of herbal remedies and natural supplements," according to a Euromonitor report.