The market for functional foods is being driven by a greater responsibility for personal health care amongst Europeans, according to a new report by market research company Mintel.
The research shows that the European functional foods market, defined as "foods designed to provide a specific benefit with long-term use", is third in value behind that of Japan and the US.
The report highlights the significant contrast with the relatively stagnant overall food market in the UK. The functional food and drink sector in the UK grew by 159 per cent between 1999 and 2001 and is now valued at £667 million (€1,088m). Functional foods and drinks are now seen as a long-term opportunity for growth.
Interviews with around 1,000 adults reflect the high percentage (80 per cent) of the British population with health concerns. These vary significantly between men and women, with breast cancer topping female worries (40 per cent) and cancer the biggest male concern at 32 per cent.
"Health concerns continue to drive the awareness of the functional foodsmarket. The sector is also likely to benefit from demographic changes, particularly the ageing population, which will increase the need for preventative actions to counter the health statistics," commented Elvira Doghem-Rashid, consumer goods consultant with Mintel.
The report also found that while exercising to protect health has become more prevalent, only 31 per cent of adults now visit their doctor once a year for a check-up, compared to 46 per cent in 1998.
This decrease in the number of annual check-ups is claimed to be in line with the UK government's strategy of encouraging people to take more responsibility for their own health in order to reduce the burden on National Health Service resources.
"Today's consumer is more likely to take greater responsibility for theirown health. Many consumers will be attracted to everyday foods and products that offer health benefits without a major change in eating habits or lifestyle, so long as taste is not compromised," added Doghem-Rashid.
The results showed that around a quarter of men worry about prostrate cancer, with concern peakingamong the 45-54 age group. Prostrate cancer mortality increases with age, peaking at 75-84 years. However, Mintel's consumer research looking at men aged 25 and over finds concern to be lowest among 35-44 year olds, and there is only an average level of concern among over 64s.
"Unlike increased concern about breast cancer among younger women, there is a particular lack of concern about prostrate cancer among younger men, reflecting lower overall awareness of prostrate cancer among younger men," according to the report.
Exclusive research highlights key consumer health concerns as cancer (at around 30 per cent) high blood pressure at 26 per cent, asthma at 25 per cent and arthritis at 24 per cent.
It was noted that despite the rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity, this rates as one of the lowest consumer health concerns with just 9 per cent of adults highlighting this as a key issue. Further, a fifth of the population is now classified as obese, compared to less than 10 per cent in the 1980s.
The report looked at sales of functional foods by sector and found that breakfast cereals account for the largest single value share of the market at 26 per cent, followed by spreads and stimulation & energy drinks which account for around 20 per cent each.
There are some categories where functional foods accounts for as much as 70 per cent of sales - namely stimulation/energy drinks. Presence of functional foods are also prevalent in the spreads and breakfast cereals categories.
Some 40 per cent of consumers had purchased functional foods in the past 12 months, but this rose to 45 per cent of women. The most popular product for UK consumers was Flora pro.activ spread (19 per cent), followed by Yakult drink at 15 per cent.
Looking to the future, the report found that developing innovative products is a highly costly process requiring huge investment, and from past experience shows that there is no guarantee of market success. In the short-to-medium term, the greatest market growth will be achieved through product repositioning. Where big brands with high market value are repositioned, this will provide dramatic increases in the total functional market size, such that it will be characterised by surges in value rather than graduated growth.
"Provided that repositioning stimulates sales growth, the expense of repositioning will be worthwhile to manufacturers and more brands willfollow suit," said Doghem-Rashid.