Baby Boomers and Millennials are looking for products offering positive nutrition to help them optimize health and avoid chronic and, potentially, life-threatening illness. A 2013 survey found that about one-third of consumers indicated using functional foods to replace some medicine in the context of their overall health approach.
As a result of innovation, understanding, and recent and proposed regulatory changes, functional food marketers are now able to target a wider range of consumers. Some of the key nutrients and ingredients sure to be in the spotlight are: protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, magnesium and microalgae.
Consumers and marketers continue to focus on protein to address hunger control, long-lasting energy, weight loss and management, sports recovery and maintaining muscle mass with aging. Although protein consumption is generally considered excessive in the U.S., reflected in the 78% of consumers who believe they get enough, one estimate indicated that 15-38% of adult men and 41% of adult women fail to consume the recommended amount. There is now much greater interest in plant protein sources, as more attention is paid to sustainability, avoiding known allergens and the needs of vegetarians and vegans, perhaps contributing to the 54% of consumers who indicate they want more protein in their diets.
Wider recognition of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to heart health, cognitive/brain health and immunity, and knowledge that most Americans don’t consume enough, keeps this dietary component in the news, despite lower consumer interest. Within the food industry, omega-3 fatty acids are of concern because some marine sources are regarded as unsustainable with prices on the rise while the development of more algal sources is underway.
While 68% of consumers think they get enough vitamin D from food and supplements, 53% want more. In reality, only 32% actually get enough. Primarily known for its role in bone health and osteoporosis prevention, proposed changes to the nutrition facts panel, if approved, will call attention to vitamin D and more marketers can be expected to contemplate the addition of this nutrient where allowed, especially in dairy products and cereals.
Magnesium is critical for converting vitamin D to its active form along with playing a role in more than 300 enzyme systems to regulate numerous biochemical reactions in the body. As such, it is important in bone and joint health, including osteoporosis, and research shows it is beneficial in type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, inflammation, hypertension, asthma, colon cancer and promoting brain health.
Microalgae is one of the most exciting ingredient developments showing great promise, according to Packaged Facts. Food ingredients sourced from microalgae are just starting to make their way onto the marketplace. This entirely new class of whole food ingredient gives functional food and beverage manufacturers the opportunity to offer traditional, fat laden foods with significantly reduced fat, cholesterol and saturated fat while adding protein, micronutrients and antioxidants, facilitating inherently shorter ingredient declarations, without introducing GMOs or allergens.