Today, consumers are armed with health information at their fingertips, giving them the ability to analyze and decide for themselves from a dietary aspect which prevention techniques can help them achieve a greater sense of wellness. This has been critical to the growth of functional foods.
Demographics also play an important role. As the population of Baby Boomers continues to swell dramatically, the demand for condition-specific foods will skyrocket. Health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and diabetes have created a need for functional foods that provide healthy support for these conditions.
Mood & Memory Enhancement Ingredients
As consumers move away from anti-psychotic medications, many are entertaining the use of nutritional ingredients instead. On the mood enhancement front, amino acids such as L-phenylalanine and L-tyrosine are becoming popular for their ability to boost the amount of "feel good" amines in the brain. And both aminos have been widely studied for their mood enhancement properties.
In the body, phenylalanine is converted into tyrosine, which in turn is converted into L-dopa, norepinephrine and epinephrine, three key neurotransmitters (signals between nerve cells). Because some antidepressants work by raising levels of norepinephrine, various forms of phenylalanine have been studied as a possible treatment for depression. In addition, focus, memory and reaction speed are often enhanced when using these amino acids with choline derivatives, which increase the memory neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Choline and acetylcholine enhancers, such as phosphatidylserine (PS), help nerves and muscles contract; they also improve memory related activities and prevent central nervous system fatigue. One example of a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) version of phosphatidylserine is Lipogen, which is produced through a unique and patented "food friendly" process. Utilizing these compounds in correct and efficacious amounts may prove tricky, however, as stabilizer usage is critical with regard to processing and pH, both of which have direct effects on shelf-life stability.
Stress & Anxiety Reduction Ingredients
With today's stress levels at an all-time high, more consumers are looking for beverages that can help slow the pace of their hectic lifestyles, as opposed to energy drinks, which help speed them up. At the center of this movement is an ingredient called GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which according to some experts can literally help consumers apply the brakes and slow down.
But GABA's ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is limited, which is why many manufacturers count on indirect stimulators of GABA, such as Taiyo's Suntheanine (L-theanine) or Phenylbut (2-phenyl-GABA), which both have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier-these work much in the way Xanax or Valium would, but without the side effects.
Herbs such as valarian root, chamomile and hops also possess GABA-inducing properties. Further, adrenal tonics, such as schizandra and ashwagandha, also assist in tonifying the adrenals and reducing adrenalin-induced, stress-related cortical processes.
Jones Soda's is among the first in the U.S. to enter the market with a "relaxing" drink containing GABA, backed by well-known alternative medicine physician Dr. Michael Murray.
Weight Loss Ingredients
The U.S. weight loss market is projected to reach $69 billion by 2010. Currently the category is undergoing a sea change, as consumers shift from dieting and weight loss programs to managing weight via smaller portions, specific food restrictions, and light/low-fat and super-satiating foods. The latter trend has many companies developing beverages and different delivery systems utilizing ingredients that help consumers feel fuller longer.
While many brands still utilize the stimulant route to speed up metabolism, some are branching out into fats. Some of the ingredient players in this regard include sesame lignans, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and the newest kid on the block, fucoxanthin. Fucoxanthin, a natural carotenoid found in edible seaweed, possesses strong thermogenic and visceral fat reducing properties, and has been shown to support a normal metabolic rate and contribute to healthy weight management.
Intestinal Health Ingredients
As the statistics for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease and other inflammatory bowel disorders continue rising, the demand for products that promote optimal intestinal health will likely parallel this trend. Probiotics, a term few people were familiar with a few years ago, now ranks among the top five foods that people say they want to add to their diets, according to the NPD Group, a Chicago, IL-based company that tracks consumer trends. Despite the growing popularity and willingness to pay more for probiotic foods, however, most people still don't know exactly what probiotics are, even though they do want to prevent much-publicized bowel diseases.
Some of the more complete intestinal health products contain prebiotics, which, along with probiotics, offer a "synbiotic" approach to intestinal health. Prebiotic fibers such as FOS (fructooligosaccharides) and/or inulin (from chicory root) help feed probiotic bacteria, making them more potent and functional. Inulin continues to gain popularity in a number of functional areas related to gastrointestinal health. In one published study, entitled "Synbiotic Control of Inflammation and Infection in Transplantation," Stig Bengmark, MD, PhD, from the Department of Hepatology and Surgery, University College of London (UCL), stated that synbiotics "have proven effective to reduce inflammation and infection and stimulate the immune system."
Some experts believe American culture has gone too far in its war against germs. "There's an invisible epidemic of cellucide," said Paul Yanick, PhD, research director of the American Academy of Quantum Medicine. "Clearly, manmade chemicals and pharmaceuticals are killing off our commensal cells at alarming rates, making us woefully deficient in synbiotic nutrition." (For more coverage of the latest in prebiotics and probiotics, see page 30.)
Beauty Food Ingredients
Beauty beverages that offer benefits such as reducing wrinkles from within are hot right now. These products offer a lot of advantages due to the non-disease beauty claims that can be used and the ease of formulation of the applicable ingredients. Some formulations focus on enhancing and preserving collagen production by utilizing several fat- and water-soluble antioxidant nutrients, while tightening muscle with acetylcholine precursors.
Several foods contain substances that stimulate collagen production naturally. Wakame, for example, is an exotic kelp, which has been used as a food additive and nutritional supplement in Japan for years. It contains hyaluronan, which is responsible for bringing together cells and tissues, especially in the skin.
Naturally, point-of-purchase packaging is key in this area. Some beverages making beauty claims have very exotic presentations, similar to actual cosmetics. It is predicted that this category could see tremendous growth in the next three to five years.
Performance & Sports Nutrition Ingredients
As the fitness industry grows, with more consumers focusing on the importance of exercise and resistance training, the international market for performance foods and drinks has witnessed sales increases of more than 50%. Over a five-year period, this market has generated nearly $20 billion in sales, led by strong growth in performance drinks, particularly energy drinks, sports waters, amino acid drinks, protein drinks and specialized carbohydrate drinks.
As exercise recovery technology continues to improve with regard to specific functionalities, nitric oxide (NO) producing drinks continue to be all the rage. These drinks utilize amino acid technology, which has been clinically shown to increase blood flow and provide a workout boost that promotes vascularity and immediate increase in muscle size volume.
Some of the amino acids used in these formulations include L-arginine, along with citrulline and other vitamin/mineral co-factors. While powders containing these ingredients are popular, ready-to-drink formulations are grabbing most of the attention in this area.
The category, dominated by the simplicity of Gatorade, will undergo serious changes during the next three years as athletes and fitness enthusiasts start looking for the next best thing.
Joint Health Ingredients
Joint health is really starting to gain more traction in the marketplace, mostly driven by Baby Boomers. Unfortunately, companies that attempted to launch a joint health functional food or beverage even a few years ago were ahead of their time-the market just wasn't ready.
Few health issues affect as many people as joint pain. In fact, a recent report estimates that 21% of the adult population suffers from some form of joint-related pain. And that number is expected to rise even higher as Baby Boomers age. In fact, by 2030 almost 67 million people will suffer from joint problems.
Many of today's joint health beverages contain glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally present in the human body and contribute to the formation of proteoglycans, which are crucial to the maintenance of healthy cartilage. Osteoarthritis and joint damage caused by everyday wear and tear degenerate and thin articular cartilage, reducing its ability to resist the forces of everyday activity.
Research has shown that oral supplementation of proteoglycan precursors leads to articular cartilage repair, resulting in significant reductions in pain and stiffness, better than or equal to ibuprofen (e.g., NSAIDs). There is also evidence to suggest that glucosamine maintains joint space, increasing function and flexibility.
Regenassure is a patented, non-shellfish form of glucosamine (the only one that has GRAS affirmation), which can be used in foods and beverages. This allows manufacturers to avoid placing the "contains shellfish" allergen statement on product labels.
Other innovations addressing joint inflammation include herbal extracts that have the ability to lower COX-2 inflammatory enzymes. Ingredients that apply here include ginger, turmeric and rosemary, all of which have been shown in clinical studies to reduce the enzymes that cause inflammation.
For the last several years, energy drinks have lit up the convenience store industry's beverage category, triggering double-digit sales growth and unflagging profit margins.
While the energy drink category accounts for more than 18% of total convenience-store packaged beverage sales, according to Nielsen Co. data, the powerhouse category is exhibiting signs of fatigue. While a slowing pattern is occurring, however, the energy drink market is still predicted to grow 15% in 2009.
Energy drinks have experienced an explosive several years. In terms of sales, energy drinks saw a 40% increase in 2006, and grew another 30% percent in 2007, according to Convenience Store News 2008 Mid-Term Forecast Study, which was released last August. In 2008, energy drink sales increased about 20%, according to market research firm Mintel International, Chicago, IL.
Most recently, FDA voiced concern over the continued overuse of caffeine by energy drink manufacturers. In fact, recent reports to U.S. poison control centers of caffeine abuse showed numerous bad reactions to energy drinks.
In a 2008 survey of 496 college students, 51% reported consuming at least one energy drink during the last month. Of these energy drink users, 29% reported "weekly jolt and crash episodes," while 19% reported heart palpitations from drinking these concoctions.
To add some perspective, a regular 12-oz. cola drink has about 35 mg of caffeine, while a 6-oz. cup of brewed coffee has 80 to 120 mg of caffeine. Because many energy drinks are marketed as "dietary supplements," the limit FDA requires on the caffeine content of soft drinks-71 mg per 12-oz. can-does not apply. As a result, the caffeine content of energy drinks can vary widely, from 100 mg to more than 500 mg.
Prompted by these recent issues, companies are searching for other ways to provide energy, mostly by using less caffeine and amino acids, plus non-stimulant herbal extracts that help the adrenals cope with the amount of caffeine used in the drink.
Either way, in the next few years the industry will likely witness some regulation of energy drinks in terms of caffeine content and can volume.
Superfoods & Antioxidant Ingredients
As consumers continue to search for healthy alternatives to sugary colas and juices, an exploding category encompassing antioxidant, anti-aging type beverages and foods has emerged. Acai berry juice, green tea, blueberry, black cherry, noni, pomegranate, goji and cranberry juice are all benefitting from this trend.
Health benefits from this class of compounds occur when the amount of oxidative stress (free radicals) in the body is neutralized by antioxidants. Free radicals represent a class of damaging substances that are continuously being produced in the body. When a person does not consume foods, beverages or supplements that contain antioxidants these free radicals can begin to build up in the body's system and cause numerous toxic effects.
One tricky aspect when formulating beverages with antioxidants is providing stability through processing and shelf-life. Free radicals are sometimes generated during the bottling process, so formulators should add antioxidant ingredients last in order to reduce the amount of oxygen introduced in the blending of the formulation. Other stability antioxidants like rosemary can help to offset the amount of hydroxyl radicals that cause instability. Also, using specific mineral donors can increase stability of the pH and further benefit antioxidant stability.
Blood Sugar Management Ingredients
With diabetes and obesity at record levels among adults and children, dietary methods used to control blood sugar levels have become very important to these groups. Maintaining blood sugar levels can be achieved by eating foods and beverages that are low glycemic. Very briefly, the glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates according to their affect on blood glucose. Choosing low GI carbs-the ones that produce only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels-is crucial to reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as inducing sustainable weight loss.
Unfortunately, using the GI can be complicated. Several factors and characteristics influence a food's glycemic response. In starchy foods, this includes the amount of carbohydrates, type of monosaccharide and starches, starch-nutrient interaction or physical entrapment, type and level of resistant starches, degree of starch gelatinization, protein content, fat content and dietary fiber (which can inhibit or decrease the rate of carbohydrate absorption).
Confounding factors aside, it's best to formulate with ingredients that have or contribute to a low GI. In general, this means avoiding high levels of "glycemic carbohydrates" (i.e., ingredients high in sugar), and paying particular attention to glucose, and high starch, especially amylopectin and white flour, or any other compound that easily converts to glucose. Using fructose (not high fructose corn syrup) as a replacement to sugar is a great low glycemic alternative, as fructose needs to be converted by the liver first and then converts slowly to glucose.
Effectively cross-marketed to the nation's more than 20 million diabetics as well as consumers interested in other wellness areas such as energy and weight loss, low glycemic fare is making its mark with products that go one step beyond no- and low-sugar.
While low glycemic foods have yet to penetrate the mainstream market in large numbers, look for them to make significant progress in the next five years. Data from Packaged Facts, New York, NY, indicate that low glycemic sales will continue to soar at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 45% through 2011, with sales touching $1.8 billion.
If history is any indication, functional foods should continue their positive trajectory in the U.S. If there are any doubts, think back to Japan in the early 1990s. During this time, the country's functional food market was still embryonic, as it endured its "lost decade," a financial crisis that led to 10 years of little or no growth. Yet for nutrition and health in Japan the 1990s was anything but a lost decade. By 2001, the combined retail value of supplements and functional foods was more than $23 billion. The economy went down and nutrition went up. We will most likely witness the same type of scenario here in the U.S. during the next several years.