Antioxidant claims continue to grow – but have consumers 'checked out' of the ORAC debate?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antioxidant

Should consumers take any notice of ORAC values given that anything can be an antioxidant in a test tube, but that doesn’t tell you how it will behave in the human body?
Should consumers take any notice of ORAC values given that anything can be an antioxidant in a test tube, but that doesn’t tell you how it will behave in the human body?
US retail sales of products making antioxidant claims grew a healthy 8.6% to $64.8bn in 2011, although marketers are still struggling to articulate their benefits to consumers, according to a new report from Packaged Facts.

The strongest growth came from packaged beverages with antioxidant claims, with sales up 12.9% to $12.2bn; followed by personal care and cosmetics (up 12.7% to $3.92bn); packaged foods (up 7.3% to $48.1bn); and dietary supplements (up 6.5% to $610m).

And while new product introductions with antioxidant claims dropped sharply in 2009 as the recession started to bite, things picked up again in 2010 and 2011, despite a flurry of press reports questioning whether antioxidant supplements really do what they say on the tin.

As to which antioxidants are gaining momentum, mangosteen, yuzu, sea buckthorn and wholegrains are ones to watch, says Packaged Facts, which predicts the market for antioxidant products will approach $86bn in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6% over the next five years.

Publisher David Sprinkle Told NutraIngredients-USA: "Some of the more exotic antioxidant ingredients can trend in and out quite quickly, but I think wholegrains as antioxidants has the potential to be a big thing in the bakery and breakfast cereals markets."

Tremendous growth potential?

In terms of new launches, the most activity has been in food products making antioxidant claims, with twice as many new launches in the first six months of 2011 as in the whole of 2010, it says.

“Packaged Facts sees tremendous growth potential for antioxidant product marketers over the next ten years…

“Marketers and media… continue to educate consumers about the anti-aging and immunity-boosting qualities of antioxidants-making antioxidants a household word and helping to counteract barriers raised by the complexity of the antioxidant health message, the lack of content standards, and somewhat stringent FDA guidance on nutrient content claims for antioxidant foods and beverages.”

But while the term ‘antioxidant’ has become a household word, antioxidant claims have also become subject to greater scrutiny in the media, acknowledged Sprinkle.

"However, I think consumers in general remain very receptive to antioxidants and if firms focus on foods consumers know are naturally high in antioxidants - tea for example - I think there is still a lot of potential for fairly generic, high antioxidant claims."

Marketing, antioxidants and the future

So how should marketers communicate the benefits of antioxidants, and should consumers take any notice of ORAC values at all given that anything can be an antioxidant in a test tube, but that doesn’t tell you how it will behave in the human body?

Indeed, many academics have long argued that cash pumped into in-vitro studies comparing ORAC values of antioxidants containing completely different sets of compounds would be better spent on establishing which flavonoids and phenolic compounds and related metabolites actually gain access to appropriate cells in the body to exert biological effects.

But should the generic term ‘antioxidant’ become passé, does the potential lie in making generic claims about tackling the low grade inflammation at the root of many chronic diseases instead, or in homing in on specific compounds with specific physiological effects and then marketing them accordingly (lutein and eye health; acai berries and cardiovascular health)?

Life Extension: A few years ago, no one knew what an antioxidant was

Ron Antriasian, director of sales and business development for supplement maker Life Extension, says the important thing is that we are talking about it.

“The most important result of this debate is that is has generated public awareness about antioxidants and their myriad of benefits.

“A few years ago, no one knew what an antioxidant was. Now, marketers of everything from cosmetics to cereals to pizza tout the presence of antioxidants in their products.

“The reality is that antioxidants are a powerful weapon against the damage caused by free radicals, and supplements - from CoQ10 to selenium to alpha lipoic acid - are one very effective way to increase antioxidants in the body.”

Jeff Hilton: ORAC is basically meaningless it has been so abused as a concept ...

While the term antioxidant still clearly resonates with consumers, ORAC is problematic, says Integrated Marketing Group co-founder Jeff Hilton, who says the hot antioxidants right now are Alpha lipoic acid, Acai, L-glutathione, CoQ10 and Kona fruit extract.

"Consumer awareness for antioxidants rivals awareness for omega-3's in my opinion. In focus groups we see that consumers know antioxidants are good but can seldom if ever verbalize why or how they work in the body. 

"ORAC is basically meaningless as a measure since it has been so abused as a concept.  Consumers have checked out of that discussion. Consumers just know that antioxidants are good and that they need to supplement with them in some form."

Where are the biggest growth opportunities?

While scores of ingredients act as antioxidants, fruits and grains still seem to resonate most strongly with consumers, says Karena Dillon, president of California-based natural products industry brand marketing firm Baker Dillon Group.

“Cereal companies are promoting whole grains as the key to antioxidant rich breakfast foods, while many dietary supplement companies are going down the superfruit route, marketing to the whims of the consumer for new and innovative products while still providing the value of tried and true fruits and vegetables singularly and in combination.”

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