"A general increase in consumer awareness in Europe has been stimulated by the favorable coverage of micro minerals in health magazines, dieting books and other promotional campaigns, creating abundant marketing opportunities for mineral manufacturers," said Kathy Brownlie, research manager for the consulting company which has recently published a brochure on the European Mineral Fortification and Supplement Market.
She told NutraIngredients.com that calcium is the number one mineral, but there is increasing interest in the health benefits of chromium.
Selenium has been a feature on the shelves of specialist supplement retailers for some time, yet its first forays into functional food have not been a runaway success. A selenium-enriched bread in up-market British supermarket Waitrose was pulled off the shelves in November due to poor sales, just nine months after its launch.
When new mineral products come to market, Brownlie said: "It is not always clear how much are real benefits and how much is marketing hype."
In the case of the selenium bread, it may be that there simply wasn't enough marketing. While its health benefits are well documented and there have been some positive studies have come to light in recent months (such as one presented at the American College of Rheumatology conference in December which linked low selenium levels to increased risk of osteoarthritis), it has not yet made an impact on the radar screen of the general consumer.
The flip side, however, is negative publicity as a result of controversial scientific evidence. Vitamin and mineral sales are particularly vulnerable to peaks and troughs caused by the latest studies reported by the media.
This, according to Frost & Sullivan, calls for "damage control strategies", and where the need for marketing of the strong R&D behind a product kicks in.
As for product development, minerals pose particular challenges for formulators as they can give functional foods a metallic taste. At this level, says Frost & Sullivan, knowledge of the stability and interactions of the components in the recipe, as well as the best way to process and store it, can make all the difference.
However it predicts that one of the most exciting new areas for minerals will be as antioxidants in cosmetics or other topical products such as sun screen, shaving and anti-ageing products.
There is currently some uncertainty in the food and supplements market due to the new EU food supplements directive, which came into effect in August.
Under the directive, Brussels will set the maximum levels of vitamins and minerals allowed in supplements for all 25 member states. However these could well be lower than current levels in more liberal markets like the UK and The Netherlands.
The Commission has said it will come up with a proposal for maximum permitted levels for vitamins and minerals in 2006 with a view to adopting these as part of the directive by 2007.
Following campaigning from the market, trade and consumer groups the UK's Food Standards Agency is pushing for a two tier risk assessment approach that would enabling maximum safe levels to be established on an EC basis but permit additional guidance levels on a national basis.