Agricore invests in functional food research

Related tags Functional foods Nutrition

Canadian firm Agricore United will invest $1 million dollars over a
five year period in the University of Manitoba's new Richardson
Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.

The facility will be open - from winter 2005 - to researchers and industry partners as a place where they can work together to develop functional foods and nutraceuticals.

The $25 million centre will focus on agricultural products important to the prairie region, including oats, wheat, buckwheat, canola, flax and hemp. Digvir Jayas, the interim director of the centre, said the research results will help provide consumers, health researchers and healthcare professionals with scientifically grounded information allowing them to make informed food choices.

"Currently, numerous products are being marketed based on anecdotal information or on very limited research,"​ said Jayas. "Such products have the potential to create serious danger to consumers."

Jayas added that: "Consumer acceptability is an area of research that can't be overlooked. In addition to whether the product meets the requirements of taste, the fit with lifestyle and culture is very important."

Brian Hayward, CEO of Agricore, believed that the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from the research stage right through to pilot production and commercialization would help the company with its research and make it more able to better inform its customers.

According to Frost & Sullivan the functional foods industry is worth an estimated $18-$20 million, and is currently dominated by mainstream companies, such as Unilever with its Slimfast brand, McNeil Nutrationals, Nestle, General Mills, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Stoneyfield Farm

Most food areas are experiencing growth as manufacturers start to expand their functional ranges. Savithri Ramalinga, a research analyst working in Frost and Sullivan's India office, highlighted oils and spreads, dairy products, bars, confectionary, cereals and bread as being sites of particular growth, to NutraIngredientsUSA​ earlier this year.

Two years ago Leatherhead drew attention in a report to the fact that functional food products are often marketed as having a specific benefit, mainly for the gut, bone, heart or performance.

Ramalinga thought this tendancy would continue, but would not rule out the possibility of foods being marketed for general health and well-being.

"This is because companies are becoming increasingly aware of concepts like bioavailability and the capacity to combine specific nutrients or ingredients to give them a greater synergistic effect,"​ she said. "This means companies are more able to formulate products with greater health benefits - such as benefits for the gut, eye and bone in a single product."

However, she warned that marketing products for general health, or several health benefits, was likely to be less cost effective than producing a single product for a specific problem.

"The challenge faced by the companies would be in terms of product costing,"​ she said. "The product cost for foods and beverages incorporating more than one functional ingredient - to address a whole gamut of health issues - would work out fairly high as most of the functional ingredients are expensive."

She therefore concluded that it was most likely that companies would simultaneously market functional products for specific health benefits and products for general well-being to give customers a wider choice both in terms of product and price.

Fifty-nine percent of US citizens already incorporate some kind of functional foods into their diet, but if they are going to continue consuming functional products and new consumers are to be attracted, more research, like that proposed by the Richardson Centre will have to be carried out.

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