Vision Health Among the Most Dynamic Platforms of 2015
The growth performance of the vision health platform progressively strengthened over the 2010-2015 review period, starting with near-total stagnation in the first year and delivering its strongest growth of 5% (based on fixed 2015 US$ exchange rates and constant prices) in the final year.
Only energy boosting, buoyed by the enthusiastic uptake of energy drinks in emerging economies, and food intolerance, which is a major global health and wellness trend right now, managed to outperform vision health’s growth in 2015. This means that vision health beat the mighty general well-being and the digestive health platforms, albeit by little more than one percentage point.
It must be pointed out, however, that vision health remains by far the smallest of the 14 prime positioning platforms researched by Euromonitor International. Global value sales of vision health-positioned packaged foods and beverages amounted to just $10 million in 2015, while the next biggest category, brain health and memory, grossed $271 million, just behind beauty from within, with sales totaling $299 million.
From this, one might be drawn into thinking that vision health is niche, but this is not the case. Our consumer health data show that eye health supplements accrued global value sales of $1.1 billion in 2015.
The issue is that, to date, not very many consumers have been conscious of the fact that packaged foods and beverages can make a valuable contribution to healthy vision. Besides specialist dietary supplements, those consumers who are more keenly interested in eye health know to seek out colorful fresh fruit and vegetables, since there is a growing body of evidence that supports the premise that carotenoid-rich produce, if consumed over long periods of time, prevents conditions causing visual impairment, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is one of the factors that boosted volume sales of fresh cranberries/blueberries by 35% globally between 2009 and 2014, a notable achievement for a fresh food category.
Astaxanthin: A Newcomer Among Eye Health Carotenoids
Carotenoids, such as lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin, are long-established key functional ingredients for eye health and commonly found in dietary supplements. The premise for this is that carotenoids occur in high concentrations in the macula of the human eye and there is a lot of convincing research out there suggesting that maintaining the macula in a carotenoid-saturated state prevents the development of AMD.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), AMD is the third leading cause of blindness globally after cataracts and glaucoma. In industrialized countries like the U.S., AMD is the most common reason for loss of sight.
Astaxanthin is another carotenoid set to carve out its place on the vision health functional ingredient horizon in the near future. Astaxanthin is a dark red pigment that occurs naturally in certain species of microalgae. It is responsible for the characteristic coloring of salmon, lobster, prawns and flamingo, for example. It has also been found in high concentrations in the eyes of seabirds.
Besides a possible application in the prevention of AMD, there is also some preliminary research indicating that astaxanthin may be useful for maintaining the function of the circular ciliary muscles, which make it possible for the eye to focus on objects at varying distances from the observer. Long hours spent in front of the screen are known to fatigue these muscles. If this functional benefit was confirmed conclusively, the market potential of astaxanthin in the modern-day consumer base would be enormous.
Vitamin D: A New Role in Eye Health?
If health and wellness-savvy consumers were asked to name an eye-health vitamin, most would probably answer “vitamin A.” Vitamin A deficiency, after all, is the most common cause of blindness in children in many developing countries.
New research is now hinting that another vitamin may have sight-saving powers however. In October 2015, JAMA Ophthalmology published a study carried out by the University of Buffalo, which suggests that adequate vitamin D (25-hydroxyvitamin D) intake amongst postmenopausal women, who are genetically predisposed toward developing AMD, appears to offer a protective effect. Those with very low blood levels of vitamin D, by contrast, were almost seven times more likely to develop the condition.
And while this one study, which involved nearly 1,000 women, is in itself not sufficient to prove a definitive causal relationship, it does cast the vitamin, which has so far chiefly been linked with bone health and immunity, in a new light. These new findings will, no doubt, provide fresh research impetus, as they are also an incentive for players who want to get more closely involved in the field of personalized nutrition, where people’s individual genetic make-up provides the basis for determining their nutritional intake in order to achieve specific health outcomes.
Vision Health Foods & Beverages Underdeveloped
So far, vision health-positioned food and beverage products have almost entirely been confined to juice, with small incursions being made into confectionery. There is no doubt that juice lends itself exceptionally well as a vehicle for vision health ingredients, be they fruit, vegetables or more specialist functional ingredients.
Consumers have little trouble associating juice made from fruit and vegetables rich in carotenoids (often referred to as “pro-vitamin A”) with eye health benefits, and manufacturers should be encouraged to develop and promote these kinds of products further (e.g., within the broader realm of soft drinks rather than just within juice), and also to try and break into new categories, such as dairy and snacks, for example.
Our data show that sales of overtly vision health prime positioned offerings are heavily concentrated in Asian markets. In fact, sales are almost exclusively generated by Japan, Taiwan and Thailand at this point. Restrictive health claims legislation is, no doubt, partly responsible for this state of affairs. In the EU, for instance, no health claims pertaining to carotenoids and eye/vision health have thus far been approved, despite copious evidence in favor of such a link from decades of studies into the matter.
According to the WHO’s Universal Eye Health Global Action Plan 2014-2019, 80% of all causes of visual impairment are either preventable or curable. Granted, the document mentions neither carotenoids nor vitamin D within its preventive measures and strategies, but as research progresses, nutritional approaches are highly likely to gain the support of “official” public health bodies at some point in the future.
For further insight contact Ewa Hudson, Global Head of Health and Wellness Research at Euromonitor International, at firstname.lastname@example.org.