A little something extra


Foods and beverages deemed "functional" have received a lot of attention in recent years. Although youll find no official FDA definition as to what constitutes a functional food or beverage, the generally accepted definition among industry players is any food or food component that has a positive effect on health beyond providing basic nutrients, explains Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian who is a clinical associate professor at Boston University, an author and a spokesperson for the Chicago-headquartered Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Moreover, the food or food component that makes a product functional can be naturally occurring or added to an existing food or beverage. Oatmeal, for example, is functional without augmentation, Salge Blake says, containing soluble fiber that is known to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. Other products such as milk, on the other hand, can be fortified with ingredients such as heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, elevating them to functional food status.

Demand for both types of products appears to be strong. According to "Functional Foods and Drinks," a November report from the Global Industry Analysts Inc. division of Rockville, Md.-based, North America represents the largest regional market for functional foods and beverages, with 2012 sales estimated at $40.6 billion. The company forecasts the market to grow at a steady rate in the coming years, driven by an aging population, rising income levels, changing lifestyles and increased emphasis on convenience foods.

In demand

The functional foods and beverages of most interest to todays consumers include those that enhance physical performance and/or endurance, increase and sustain energy, and help fight the effects of aging and prevent age-related disabilities, says Brandon Martin, president and chief operating officer of LifeTree Manufacturing Inc., Tempe, Ariz.

"Humans are competitive in nature," he offers, "and we live in a competitive world. Everyone wants to improve their ability to succeed."

But Martin believes the best opportunities for store brands lie in digestive-health and protein-based functional products, which both offer functional benefits to a majority of the population.

For new product development, retailers also will want to consider the wants and needs of baby boomers, which are driving much of the functional food and beverage growth, Salge Blake notes.

"They want to take control of their health," she says. "They not only want to live longer than the generation before them, they want to live better."

consider product development tied to digestive-health and proteinbased products, which offer functional benefits to a majority of the population.

mislead or confuse shoppers: Be careful with structure/ function claims.

Of particular concern to baby boomers is heart health, which is the number-one killer of Americans and has a dietary component associated with prevention, Salge Blake says. Certain cancers, stroke and Type 2 diabetes also are of concern.

"Diet can play a role in all of these to lower the risk," she stresses, so people are looking to foods in their diet and lifestyle changes to lower the risk – and thats where functional foods are coming into play."

The Global Industry Analysts report states that health maintenance, in general, through diet also "has become a top priority for Americans, owing to the escalating costs of healthcare." The best-selling functional food and beverage products are cereals and breads, nutrition bars and bakery products, dairy and soy-based foods, sports drinks, bottled drinks, juices and tea – but "foods likely to register gains include those that fit well with consumer expectations for taste, nutrition, convenience and, of course, health promotion and disease prevention," the report adds.

Communicate carefully

Store brand functional foods and beverages often offer consumers health benefits at a value. But retailers need to tread carefully when communicating those health benefits to consumers. Essentially, FDA allows several types of claims –among them, specific health or qualified health claims and structure/function claims, notes Salge Blake. For example, the label for a box of oatmeal could bear a health claim that states, "Three grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Although health claims and qualified health claims are based on science, structure/function claims fall into a bit of a gray area, she says.

"These are very general .... and cant be related to a condition or a disease," she explains, "but they can state something like: Calcium builds bones."

The problem with structure/function claims, Salge Blake contends, is that they can be confusing to consumers. For example, if one brand of low-fat yogurt bears the "Calcium builds bones" statement but another does not, consumers could believe the one with the claim is more healthful than the other – when, in fact, it not.

Salge Blake advises retailers to save these types of claims for signage and other communications directed at an entire category.

"They could say, Calcium is needed to build healthy bones, and yogurt is a good source of calcium," she says.