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Food Factoids: Functional Foods and Beverages

Packing a “Berry” Big Punch!

The acai fruit has found its way into a variety of drinks including smoothies, teas and juices, and has enabled manufactures to offer a health boost to consumers. As part of the latest trend in a growing food category, “functional foods,” foods with ingredients like acai provide some benefit outside of basic nutrition. Acai is a dark purple berry, native to Brazil, packed with fiber, phytochemicals and essential fatty acids.

Several juices made with acai are marketed as a food, which restricts the claims that can be made about their health benefits, but some manufacturers of similar high-concentration juices market them as dietary supplements. Foods and dietary supplements sold in the U.S. are subject to FDA regulations which control marketing, advertising and packaging claims. That is why it is so important to understand the differences between various claims and how to correctly apply them on nutrition label.

How America Functions

According to the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), functional foods are fast becoming a part of everyday life in America. IFT reports that two-thirds of adults made an effort to buy more fortified foods last year — up 17 percent since 2005. In addition, one-third of young adults aged 18–24 regularly drink energy beverages.

Of all the new functional food concepts, IFT reports that consumers are most interested in new products that improve mental performance. More than one-third of consumers drink energy beverages for a mental boost. Ginseng, guarana, and taurine are among the key ingredients in emerging beverages. Candies, gums, and chocolates are also gaining popularity within the functional-food market.

Finding the Most “Functional” Food Niche

According to a recent study published by TSG, “targeted” foods and drinks that address consumers’ specific health needs are expected to exceed category growth in the U.S. functional food segment.

TSG defines “targeted foods” as functional foods designed to address specific health or disease conditions: specific physical or mental states or specific age or gender needs.

The report suggests that “targeted foods,” which currently comprise 12 percent of the $60 billion functional food segment, could grow to take a 25-35 percent share by 2012.  It also reveals that beverages lead the targeted foods category, making up 42 percent of overall product sales. Breads, cereals, pasta and baking items take second place as the largest product category within the targeted foods segment. These products hold 21 percent of the market. Dairy, yogurt and dairy alternatives take a 17 percent share, while snacks hold 9 percent, and chocolate, candy and gum hold 8 percent. The report identifies four critical ingredient categories for targeted foods:


Soy is linked to lower cholesterol, a reduced rate of certain cancers, a reduced risk of osteoporosis and an alleviation of menopausal symptoms.


Omega 3’s are associated with lower blood pressure, a reduced risk of heart disease, a decrease in arthritic symptoms, and pregnancy, post-partum and infant benefits.


Probiotics may improve lactose tolerance, reduce diarrhea, enhance immunity, prevent colon cancer, improve IBS symptoms and lower blood pressure.

Plant Sterols

Plant sterols are connected with lower cholesterol, reduced risk of certain cancers and menopausal benefits.

Drinking in the Beauty of the Hottest Functional Food Trends

According to a national ABC television news affiliate, three main trends are emerging within the food industry: health-based functional foods, allergen-free products, and savory flavors, often sourced from India and Morocco.

In the health-based functional food category, the acai fruit from South America and the goji berry from Asia offer hope for manufacturers looking to expand product portfolios. These “super foods” tout high antioxidant levels. Other functional foods, often containing Omega-3, choline, and B vitamins, may offer improved brain function for kids and seniors, in addition to improved bone, gut and heart health.

In addition, functional foods and drinks continue to expand with beauty claims. These include claims to enhance skin health and reduce wrinkles. Imagine the ability to reduce the appearance of wrinkles while enjoying a delicious treat each day! The potential for functional food benefits abounds, but careful regulatory consideration before making a claim of any sort should always take precedence well in advance of a new product launch.

Re“claim” Your Energy

Energy drinks may be a saving grace for many on-the-go people, but invalid functional-food claims could prevent manufacturers from successfully crossing the product-development finish line, often leaving weary consumers thirsting a little longer than anticipated.

When it comes to functional foods and beverages, few sectors can rival the “energy” category, because it has excelled where many other functional foods categories have found only niche-level success. “Energy” has delivered a real benefit to a very real market need: providing a fuel boost to run-down people.

In a multi-billion dollar global industry, fierce competition can cause products to launch with inaccurate structure-function claims that raise a red flag among consumer-action organizations, federal regulators and non-government health-related groups. Add to that the fact that the energy sector has expanded beyond beverages into youth-friendly categories like candy bars and chocolate, which requires a whole new level of marketing conscientiousness, and you have a recipe that calls for caution.

If current trends prevail, the energy sector will continue to gain momentum – and to remain competitive while protecting growing brands, companies will need to scrutinize marketing, advertising and labeling initiatives more closely than ever before. “Energy” has quickly transcended the mainstream, garnering strong interest among teens and adults alike. But if inaccurate and untruthful claims are not reigned in, the whole sector could suffer.

FDA Approves Brown Rice Health Claim

The FDA-approved list of whole grains now has a new addition: brown rice. This health claim enables single-ingredient product manufacturers to state that products containing a sufficient amount of brown rice can “reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.”

Brown rice, along with several other grains, was previously excluded because its dietary fiber content was considered too low. However, this requirement has since been relaxed. With this health claim under its belt, brown rice products can now bear a whole grains logo and include information regarding the benefits of consumption.

The claim states: “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.”

Under the reform, all single ingredient whole grain foods are eligible to make the health claim as long as they meet broad health claim requirements. Brown rice contains antioxidants, anthocyanins, phytosterols, tocopherols, oryzanol and other nutrients that have been found to help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, type II diabetes and aid in weight maintenance. It also possesses 15 vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, potassium, magnesium, selenium, iron, and two grams of fiber per one half cup of cooked rice.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), between 2003 and 2006, the number of new whole grain product launches significantly increased every year – from 64 in 2003, to 140 in 2004, to 346 in 2005, to 620 in 2006.

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