The global number-one player in the weight management foods market, Unilever, has indicated it will be expanding this functional category into drinkable shots.
Speaking at SupplySide West, Peter Haring, Unilever's global research and development director for Slimfast, addressed some of the challenges of bringing effective weight management food and beverage products to market.
He said the global branding giant is developing numerous food products for the weight management category, and revealed that one of these products is drinkable shots.
The company's flagship weight loss product is the Slimfast meal replacement beverage - a pioneer in the functional beverage category.
In 2004, Unilever re-launched Slimfast, which included an expanded line of products under the Slimfast Optima diet range. According to Haring, the active satiety ingredient of this formulation is fiber.
Drinkable shots have been particularly popular as a delivery system for functional ingredients - namely probiotics and phytosterols - in Europe and Japan, and have only recently began making inroads in North America.
An example of such shots is Unilever's present line of Vitality shots for cholesterol control. Haring suggested a weight management approach could be blended into a cholesterol line like this one.
The firm is looking at building such products globally, but with "some more attention to the US because of its important weight management market and developed dietary supplement market," said Haring.
Haring also hinted that Unilever is developing weight management products in other formats, but was not at liberty to give more details.
Unilever has held the rights to Phytopharm's hoodia extract, P57, for the last couple of years, and is involved in extensive research aimed at the use of this in food products.
The US weight management market is said to be the world's single largest one, with waistlines having reached epidemic proportions. Approximately one third of Americans are obese and Euromonitor International estimates the US weight management supplements market alone to be worth $3.93bn.
Other than Slimfast, Unilever also markets teas for weight management, particularly in Europe and Japan, as well as soups (mainly in Europe).
Haring underscored the importance for functional food formulators to properly balance appropriate and relevant science for a product with the necessary marketing that will ensure sales. He said this is especially tough in the US where regulations on claims and marketing are not as stringent as in the EU.
As such, less responsible companies can let their marketing go overboard and even more established or responsible companies need to tailor their marketing to the competitive environment in the US.
"The claims are a bit more stretched in the US than in Europe," said Haring. "We try to adhere to the same principles, but if we want to be a player we have to be more stretched in the US than in Europe."
Nonetheless, the Federal Trade Commission has been sending out a strong message to those rogue companies that do take their marketing too far - namely via the hinterlands of the Internet - and begun increasingly clamping down on exaggerated and unfounded claims.
This has especially applied to weight loss supplements that do not have a scientific portfolio to back claims.