Take on the two biggies

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Take on the two biggies

By Kathie Canning, - 08/23/2014

North American consumers long have understood that the foods and beverages they choose to ingest have an impact on their overall health. But the role of food and beverages in overall health and wellness has become increasingly more critical to consumers in recent years — especially for weight management and prevention of major diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

A weighty issue

When it comes to North Americans’ health challenges, weight management tops many experts’ lists. After all, being obese or overweight is linked to a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many other diseases and conditions.

The American Heart Association’s “Overweight & Obesity: 2014 Statistical Fact Sheet” notes that 154.7 million Americans age 20 and older are overweight or obese. Broken down, that includes 73.1 percent of non-Hispanic white men and 60.2 percent of non-Hispanic white women; 68.7 percent of non-Hispanic black men and 79.9 percent of non-Hispanic black women; and 81.3 percent of Mexican-American men and 78.2 percent of Mexican-American women.

Although Canadians skew a bit leaner as a whole, 53.6 percent of Canadian adults (age 18 and older) are currently overweight or obese, according to statistics published by the Canadian government.

Fullness matters

Among the weight management-related food solutions currently of high interest to consumers are high-protein formulations, which can aid in satiety, according to global market research firm Mintel.

“Protein awareness is higher and more sought after by U.S. consumers than anywhere [else] in the world,” says Nirvana Chapman, global food science trend analyst for Mintel, “and the opportunity exists for value brands to add cost-effective protein to products to entice a larger consumer segment.”

Although “the idea that we already get enough protein” is circulating, that message is not stopping consumers from looking at protein as a weight management solution, says Tamara Barnett, senior director of strategic insights for The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.

And consumers who avoid dairy milk could believe they are getting more protein than is actually being delivered, suggests Leah McGrath, RD, LDN, corporate dietitian for Asheville, N.C.-based Ingles Markets. Retailers might want to consider increasing the protein content in own-brand non-dairy milks billed as a substitute for dairy milk.

But retailers probably should be looking at more than protein in developing own-brand solutions for weight management.

“As a dietitian, I’d like to see more options of whole grain plus protein for cereal,” McGrath says.

Whole grains, fiber and protein make for a “nice trifecta” that today’s consumers are seeking, Barnett notes, not only for weight management, but also to support digestive health and general health.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE — owner and consultant dietitian at San Diego-based Ingrain Health Inc. and an assistant clinical professor of nutrition at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of San Diego — agrees that protein and fiber are satiety-promoting nutrients.

“People get tired of hearing what they can’t and shouldn’t eat, so the satiety messaging about foods you can and should eat to stay fuller for longer is a breath of fresh air to consumers,” she says. “With protein, we’re seeing Cheerios promoting Cheerios Protein and Stonyfield Farms trying to grab some of the Greek yogurt market with their new Petite Crème line. Stores can benefit from developing protein focus under their own brands, but not if it comes at the expense of more added sugar and salt.”

Speaking of Greek yogurt, it has approximately double the protein of traditional yogurts, which means it can keep people fuller longer, says Amanda Loscar, RD, LDN, dietitian and wellness coach for Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc.

“Items such as protein powders, sports nutrition bars, ground flaxseed and chia seeds help to promote satiety and can help control portions and calorie count,” she adds.

Ritika Bowry, CEO of Lexington, Mass.-based Ritika’s Global Grains, notes that her company is increasingly adding chia seeds to product offerings.

“There have been some exaggerated claims about chia seeds, but they are high in protein for seeds and very low on the glycemic index,” she explains. “They also can help lower the rate at which other carbohydrates are converted to sugars, so they are an ideal complementary ingredient.”

Bowry also points to brown and basmati rice and quinoa as helpful on the weight management front. Both grains have a low glycemic index — a plus for diabetics — and promote satiety.

“A balanced diet should include some grain-based carbohydrates, but by using healthier grains like whole-grain rice and varieties flavored with quinoa and chia seeds, consumers can maintain high protein levels and feel full sooner,” she says.

Insoluble fiber — found in foods such as beans, seeds, bran, vegetables and more — helps consumers feel fuller longer, too, says Molly McBride, RD, LD, corporate dietitian for The Kroger Co., Cincinnati.

“Fibers and whole grains are perceived as healthy by a vast majority of consumers, and over 40 percent don’t think they eat enough of them and want to increase consumption, according to Health Focus International,” states Santiago Vega, nutrition senior manager with Westchester, Ill.-based Ingredion Inc. Products that include these ingredients, in convenient on-the-go formats, may provide opportunities for retailers, especially as breakfast items or as healthy snacks.”

Vega notes that Ingredion developed several ingredients that work well in such formulations. For example, the company’s whole-grain-based WEIGHTAIN system “helps consumers manage hunger, maintain energy and reduce calorie consumption by up to 100 calories per day,” he says. Ingredion’s HI-MAIZE satiety-boosting whole grain corn flour, meanwhile, has more than three times the fiber of “regular” whole grain flour, while the company’s NUTRIOSE soluble fiber “seamlessly blends in to boost fiber content of foods and beverages and helps reduce hunger and manage weight.”

Retailers also might want to look beyond satiety-boosting formulations when it comes to own-brand product development aimed at weight management.

“Product development that can home in on lower-calorie beverage options — water as a primary ingredient rather than added artificial sweeteners — turning to fruit as a sole sweetener, and products containing less than 3 grams fat per serving are some steps in the right direction,” McBride states.

A dose of prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease and cancer represent the No. 1 and No. 2 leading causes of death, respectively, in the United States (2011 data). The same two diseases, in reverse order, also top the Canadian Government’s leading causes of death (2011 data).

When it comes to the prevention of these and other major diseases, “superfoods” have been the talk of the town in recent years. As Barnett explains, the superfood movement really started with “superfruits.”

McBride says such foods (or ingredients within foods) boast additional health benefits beyond what is reported on a nutrition label.

Superfoods often are described as foods rich in vitamins and minerals and boasting a high antioxidant content, Loscar adds. She points to berries and citrus fruit, dark leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and salmon as some of the foods belonging to the superfood category.

“Many plant-based foods are a powerhouse of nutrients, as well as additional healthy compounds,” McBride explains. “Herbs and spices — preferably fresh [rather] than dry — can be easily added to various foods and dishes to provide added flavor, without sodium, and are being studied for their power beyond the plate.”

For example, cinnamon is linked to the management of blood glucose levels, McBride says, while grapes contain resveratrol, a polyphenol that may have anticancer and anticlotting benefits.

“Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflow¬er offer glucosinolates,” she adds, “which could boost immune function and also protect us from cancer.”

And pure virgin coconut oil, which contains medium-chain triglycerides, has preventive health benefits, contends Henry Gallwitz, national sales manager for Organika Health Products Inc., Richmond, British Columbia.

Superfoods are most effective, however, in their natural state,” says Helen Agresti, RD, founder of Erie, Pa.-based Professional Nutrition Consulting LLC (www.pronutritionconsulting.com).

“For example, blueberries, pineapple, tomatoes, kale, avocados, spinach, ginger, flaxseeds, etc. [that] have not been altered in any way,” she says. “It is important to note that cooking preparation and/ or ingredients can decrease the nutrient value of a product even though it may contain a superfood.”

And although superfoods can have disease-prevention benefits, no one ingredient “can do it all,” so retailers should be careful when it comes to formulation and claims, Vega suggests.

“It’s important that retailers do their homework and investigate which of these superfoods have sound substantiation and can demonstrate their benefits in order to try to avoid ingredients that are just fads and will have a short life,” he says.

Vega adds that many “traditional, well-established ingredients” can help retailers deliver functional foods aimed at disease prevention. For example, Ingredion’s NUTRAFLORA soluble prebiotic fiber helps consumers maintain heathy digestive and immune systems — and is backed by more than 20 years of clinical research.

Bowry agrees that retailers shouldn’t get caught up in the considerable hype surrounding faddy superfoods.

“It would be hard for any food to meet the high expectations which have been created,” she stresses. “Many of the most popular ‘superfoods’ like berries, nuts, dark or green vegetables, fatty fish and whole grains have long been known to be healthy components of a healthy balanced diet.”

She adds that her company’s products offer selected superfoods such as whole grains and seeds as primary or secondary ingredients.

“The ability to defeat cancer or heart disease is a tall order, but there is widespread agreement that a healthy balanced diet increases your odds of avoiding diseases,” Bowry says. “Our products help consumers develop such a diet.”

All in all, a product development focus that emphasizes specific groups of products and ingredients (which also happen to include many of today’s popular superfoods) — paired with the right shopper education — is probably the best path to success here.

“When it comes to disease prevention, we have good data that a primarily plant-based diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables helps [protect] against … heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer,” Ferraro says.

Tap into internal expertise

In recent years, many food retailers have added registered dietitians to the payroll. And the nutritional expertise of those professionals also can be helpful in developing consumer-centric food and beverage weight-management and disease-prevention solutions.

“Private branding teams should turn to the expertise of the dietitian to deliver accurate nutritional messaging and label claims, as well as identify products which are on par with culture, trends and lifestyle,” McBride explains. “Dietitians can also lend culinary insights [and] ideas for exciting products which meet these and other dietary restrictions, and suggest ingredient decks which are cost-effective, tasty and flavorful.”

Loscar says collaboration between Giant Eagle’s dietitians and Own Brands team is becoming increasinggly important as consumers’ interests evolve. Dietitians not only are involved in own-brand product development, but also play a critical role in conveying the benefits of those products to customers in-store.

Dietitians can help the store brand team stick to “the Dietary Guidelines and the science rather than being too quick to embrace fads,” McGrath notes, “and having products that represent meal solutions and not just additional expense.”

And retailers might want add corporate chefs, too, to the collaborative team, Barnett suggests. They could help the own-brand team tap into consumers’ growing desire for foods that are not only more healthful, but also feel contemporary and relevant.

“Chefs are really the experts of our time,” she stresses.

Mind the message

When it comes to store brand food and beverage solutions aimed at weight management or disease prevention, on-pack messaging and off-pack communications can be critical to enticing shoppers to trial. On the weight-management side, highlighting portion control for products sold as individual servings can be useful, says Molly McBride, RD, LD, corporate dietitian for The Kroger Co., Cincinnati. So can “the ability to fill you up on a little, or that these foods support weight management and metabolism,” she says.

But retailers should avoid “industry insider” terms such as “functional foods” and “satiety,” explains Santiago Vega, nutrition senior manager with Westchester, Ill.-based Ingredion Inc.

“Consumers don’t use the word ‘satiety’ when describing how they feel after eating or drinking — it’s not part of their everyday vocabulary,” he points out. “The word to best communicate most often to the consumer is ‘full.’”

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