Functional foods booming despite consumer scepticism

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Functional foods, Nutrition

The $72.3bn (€48bn) functional foods and beverages markets of
Europe, the US and the Asia Pacific will grow by a buoyant 5.7 per
cent per year until 2012 as a broader demographic seeks out their
health-boosting potential, according to a new report.

While this projected expansion far outperforms the mainstream food industry in most markets (growing at about 2.5 per cent in Europe in 2006 according to the European food industry), Datamonitor warns consumer scepticism toward health claims and artificial ingredients has the potential to stain the rosy picture. Scepticism ​In the report, 'Functional Food, Drinks & Ingredients: Consumer Attitudes & Trends'​, Datamonitor notes consumers in the three regions were increasingly sceptical to health claims, viewing them as little more than a means for food and drink companies to charge price premiums. With this in mind, Hughes noted it is "essential that manufacturers promote functional foods in a credible and honest manner and continue to educate consumers about the credence of emerging ingredients such as lycopene, prebiotic fibre and plant sterols.""The concept of consumers buying more functional food and drinks, while simultaneously becoming sceptical of their health credentials does appear contradictory,"​ report author Michael Hughes told "However, it has to be remembered that consumer behaviour differs based on social demographics - and that different market segments have different attitudes."​ He said over-65s and consumers from countries with a tradition of healthy eating such as Italy and France were the most sceptical of health claims particularly those made by supermarket private-label foods. ​But while consumers are more sceptical about these issues, their interest in the value-added and healthy foods sector continues to surge. Datamonitor forecast the European, US and Asian markets for foods and drinks will hit $95.4bn (€63.4bn) by 2012 with soft drinks and confectionery performing most strongly. "Current market conditions suggest the functional food market will continue to witness impressive growth rates,"​ Hughes stated. "After all, changing social demographics and greater emphasis on maintaining health is driving the demand for foods rich in nutrients and minerals."Senior service ​Increasingly ageing populations are taking a greater interest in functional foods and beverages to "help fight disease and maintain a sense of physical and emotional vitality."​ Older consumers are also purchasing more products that claim to reduce the risk of illnesses such as osteoporosis and hypertension, although 'senior seniors' - those over 65 - are not as receptive. "The Late seniors market (in terms of functional food and drinks) remains relatively untapped," Hughes said. "They prefer conventional medicine to functional foods and believe it may be too late to enjoy the benefits associated with functional products." Baby boomers retain a strong interest in health-boosting foods and beverages. "As baby boomers reach retirement age they are making active attempts to maintain their health - usually through diet. This is a result of working till later in life and a general desire to stay young. As a result they are turning to functional foods with greater regularity." "Furthermore, as early seniors tend to be well-traveled and have a higher disposable income than the generations before them, they are more familiar with 'natural' functional foods such as acai and goji berries."​ Younger consumers are looking increasingly favourably on the sector, being drawn to 'quick-fix' benefits like energy boosting and skin health. The boom in energy products is particularly strong as younger people have their working weeks extended often in conjunction with increasingly hectic social calendars. "Often, functional product consumption has been associated with aging populations aiming to minimise the risk of serious illness,"​ Hughes observed. "However, lifestyle changes are leading to younger consumers purchasing functional foods with greater regularity, in order to combat day-to-day health issues, such as sleep deprivation, skin blemishes and even nail deficiencies."

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