Special edition: Antioxidants

Overview: The (seemingly) unstoppable antioxidant powerhouse

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Overview: The (seemingly) unstoppable antioxidant powerhouse

Related tags Green tea Nutrition

In the first instalment of this antioxidants special NutraIngredients scans a diverse global market that has barely been dented by the recession and continues to flourish amid consumer understanding that is often little more than surface deep.

Despite scientific backing that is still emerging in the realm of free radical scavenging, heart, skin health, eye health and more, the antioxidant family of polyphenols, carotenoids, phytonutrients and selected vitamins and minerals remains a functional nutrient star.

How big is the antioxidants market? It’s almost impossible to tell given the broadness of the area and non-explicit marketing for the likes of dark chocolate and green tea but it’s big, one of the biggest in the functional foods and supplements area.

Euromonitor International puts it at more than $12bn (€8.8bn) in 2009 and it is getting bigger.

In 2009, there were 409 launches globally with ‘antioxidants inside’ style labels, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) – and that is just in marquee supplement formats such as vitamin A, C E, selenium, CoQ10, selenium and zinc. Compare that with 154 in 2005 and 299 in 2007.

Already in six weeks of 2010 there have been 42 antioxidant-marketed supplement products debuted – meaning somewhere in the world such a product is presented to market every day, including weekends.

Euromonitor stats show a global supplements market worth $9.18bn (€6.7bn) in 2009, with vitamin C accounting for $3.4bn (€2.49bn), coenzyme Q10 at $897m (€657m) and vitamin E at $1.39bn (€1.02bn).

In the food and beverage area, juice products dominate, boosted in recent years by the rise of superfruits such as pomegranate, goji and acai, and the mainstream success of cranberry juice. These products are worth more than $2.6bn (€1.9bn) in 2009, according to Euromonitor analyst, Ewa Hudson, and set to push through $3bn (€2.2bn) in 2010.

“Superfruit juices have shown strong growth except in some Asian markets where a preference for fresh juices,” ​she said. “But the US remains by far the biggest market accounting for close to 90 per cent of global sales.”

Mintel in a 2009 report on functional beverages observed: “The list of functional food and beverage ingredients being promoted has expanded rapidly in recent years, but green tea, calcium, antioxidants, pomegranate, and added vitamins remain the most sought-after functional beverage ingredients.”

Euromonitor estimates the rest of the global antioxidant foods and beverages market at $2bn (€1.46bn), with green tea products performing especially well in Asian countries like Japan and antioxidant and polyphenol-marketed chocolate products recording success although usually at niche levels.

The GNPD database shows there were 2057 antioxidant-labelled food and drink products in 2009, compared with 459 in 2005 and 1339 in 2007. The US had the highest number of launches (593), followed by Australia (132), India (91), the UK (87), Canada (83), Mexico (75) and Italy (71).

Consumer understanding (or not)

All this activity is occurring in the absence of clear consumer understanding of just what benefits antioxidants can bring to their bodies, according to Dr Rachel Burch, principal research scientist at Leatherhead Food Research.

“The science is still emerging with antioxidants which is understandable given the area covers so many chemical types,” ​she said. This situation has lead to a minimum of approved health claims but, “with so many products linked to antioxidants it doesn’t seem to matter.”

“Antioxidant products have the advantage of being natural and consumers have the impression they are good for them even if they don’t exactly know why or how. The research is difficult because it is difficult to isolate single compounds but it is ongoing and winning the support of big companies like Nestle.”

Mintel observed healthy growth in the functional tea market, vegetable juices and antioxidant fortified water products, while Euromonitor said there was little activity in sectors such as dairy and bakery, where fortification challenges were greater and interest lower.

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