Credibility the key to continued functional food and beverage growth

Posted by Isobel Drake on 12th March 2009

Ever since probiotic yoghurts hit the market, many consumers have known that our intestines are populated by innumerable bacteria that go by seemingly unpronounceable names like Bifidus Digestivum, Lactobacillus Reuteri, and Lactobacillus Casei Defensis. The use of such substances as probiotic additives in yogurt and milk drinks is meant to strengthen immune systems and improve digestion. And now, more and more consumers are now demanding non-alcoholic drinks that meet the criterion of “functional” to go with foods that promote similar benefits.

In order to meet this demand, manufacturers of functional ingredients are offering beverage producers new innovative concepts in which added functional utility originates from natural sources. With consumers more discerning than ever though, the failure to support claims with facts will lead to failure.

The functionality trend in the beverage sector
ACE drinks (which have high levels of vitamins A, C and E), energy drinks, sports drinks, probiotic milk drinks, breakfast drinks, vitamin drinks, wellness drinks, and water with various active additives are all among the functional drinks that compete for the consumer dollar. The substances added to such drinks range from cider vinegar, aloe vera, and St. John’s wort to ginseng, guarana, kombucha, caffeine, coenzym Q10, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, fibres, secondary vegetable materials, fatty acids and lemon grass.

This functional trend offers food manufacturers various possibilities for developing new functional food products that meet the demands of consumers. Many functional ingredients, however, require sophisticated processing to ensure that their nutritional value remains intact. This generally involves heat-sensitive substances added to functional foods.

One solution is offered by special metering systems that enable aseptic inline metering of liquid additives after the final heating of the base product immediately before packaging. Here, the liquid to be added is placed in a bag connected to a sterile tube, through which it is injected with a sterile needle into the base product. Steam barriers maintain the aseptic environment during the process. The heat-sensitive functional additive thus bypasses the heating process. Whereas probiotic bacteria were previously to be found primarily in yoghurt or fermented milk products, the advent of this new dosage system now makes it possible to add lactic acid bacteria to fruit juices and smoothies. This was how the first-ever probiotic orange juice was launched on the market in Ireland in 2006.

Credibility is the key to success
Various analyses have found that the market for functional foods remains highly dynamic. The Future Institute in Kelkheim reports that certain forecasts predict functional food will account for around 25% of the global food market volume by the end of 2010 – and that this figure will increase to 50% by 2050.

The prediction may seem far-fetched but in Germany, Europe’s largest functional food market according to Nielsen, the sector has become so well established that many consumers barely perceive it as a different category.

Using the German example, which may prove a reliable guide to the future of functional food here in Australia, the major issue faced by manufacturers is one of credibility.  According to a representative household panel poll conducted by AC Nielsen, around 50% of Germans who refuse to buy functional foods say their reason for not doing so is because they don’t believe such foods will have the claimed effect; price is much less of a consideration here.

Such results illustrate that lack of credibility represents a true obstacle to the purchase of functional food products, but all-in-all the future appears bright.