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Focusing on Functional Ingredient Trends

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Functional and super ingredient trends offer new product opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.

When it comes to nutrition, healthy diets and weight loss, it’s evident that consumers are looking for nutritious options and giving careful consideration to their diets. However, a saturated marketplace is leaving consumers unsure. In fact, 64 percent of Americans are confused over conflicting information they read or hear about health foods, and 63 percent of Americans claim they do not know enough about how much of the health foods to consume for the desired health benefits. As health-related trends continue to evolve, more consumers are taking an interest in finding/identifying healthier food options. According to Mintel, in 2014 nearly a quarter of U.S. consumers said they would like help in understanding healthier food options, up from 17 percent in 2011. Among these misunderstandings is the difference between functional ingredients and super ingredients. While there is a generally accepted definition for functional foods, there is no science-based definition for super foods and neither term bears a regulatory definition to help guide consumer understanding and use. Food and beverage manufacturers continue to capitalize on the functional ingredient trend and product positioning based on science-based health benefits to further promote brand differentiation.

Ingredients with Health Benefits Drive Product Differentiation

Functional foods are a key trend in the food industry today. A functional food is known to have a positive health effect on consumers, expanding beyond basic nutrition. A 2013 survey found that around one-third of consumers indicated using functional foods to replace some medicine in the context of their overall health approach.

Convenience and functionality bring tremendous value to consumers today and several ingredients that offer these benefits continue to gain recognition. Currently at the forefront of this trend are fiber, probiotics and protein. Consumers concerned with regularity add fiber to their diet to support digestive health. Probiotics, while supporting digestive health, also are known for supporting immune health. In fact, recent study results suggest certain strains of probiotics help to maintain respiratory health and have a beneficial effect on respiratory illness episodes’ onset and duration in healthy adults.

In the last few years, protein has continued to gain momentum. The Food Technology 2012 report on functional food trends cited protein as a strong mega trend and we’ve seen this trend continue in recent years. In fact, the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2015 Food & Health Survey finds that 90 percent of consumers recognize it is important to get enough protein. Food manufacturers are addressing this trend by incorporating protein into products.

One of the most appealing qualities contributing to protein’s popularity is its ability to prolong satiety. Consumers are recognizing this benefit and taking a greater interest in their protein intake to assist with losing or maintaining weight, as part of a calorie-restricted diet. This has created a growing demand for higher value protein among consumers focused on weight management. Consumers are also adding protein to their diet to meet the needs of an active lifestyle, or because they are growing older and want to maintain muscle mass. Protein boasts an impressive résumé of nutritional and health-related benefits, so it’s no surprise that by 2018, protein ingredient manufacturers are forecasting the production of more than 5.5 million metric tons, generating global sales of nearly $31 billion.

According to IFIC’s 2013 Functional Foods Consumer Survey, 90 percent of consumers agree that certain foods have benefits beyond basic nutrition—the main idea behind a functional food. Soy protein delivers on that high value proposition. In fact, the same report found that nearly half of Americans agree that soy is part of a healthful diet. It’s a functional food source that can be used in a variety of applications, and it’s an economical source of protein which offers great nutritional benefits. Furthermore, soy protein is a high quality protein that is comparable to high quality animal proteins, such as eggs, milk and beef. Soy protein is unique in that it is the only complete source of vegetable protein widely available. Isolated soy protein has the highest protein content of all soy foods and is used primarily as a source of high quality protein. There are health benefits to soy protein as well. Research finds that 25 grams of soy protein per day, as part of diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Functional foods provide the added benefit of containing health-promoting properties for supporting certain aspects of health. Soy protein continues to play a role as a functional ingredient based on its unique health benefits for heart health and supporting muscle health.

Consumer Demand Continues to Drive New Application Development

The application in which ingredients are used also plays an integral role in food development and consumer demand. Convenient nutrition in the form of beverages and bars continues to be popular with consumers. Growth in functional beverages is outpacing carbonated beverages and other high-sugar, empty calorie beverages. Consumers are looking to functional beverages to satisfy a variety of needs including: providing nutrition in addition to refreshment, acting as a quick meal/snack-on-the-run and providing hydration. Beverages are a versatile format for providing nutritional and functional benefits, offering consumers a variety of textural and sensory experiences. However, the health benefits are still important.

Food and beverage marketers recognize the potential of the health conscious consumers, but they may not yet have a strategy for capturing that full market. For example, today many beverages are focused on the general health and wellness population that needs a supplement in a beverage format, however DuPont Nutrition & Health’s research indicates there is a group of busy, active consumers that are interested in certain health benefits—such as blood sugar management, heart health, muscle health, digestive or immune health. By targeting some of these areas of health interest, beverage marketers could reach an even broader audience of consumers.

What’s Next in Future Trends?

In recent years, we have seen expansion of soy into other exciting applications such as cereal, snacks and baked goods, providing the consumer with even more ways to find protein in familiar foods they enjoy.

As food manufacturers look to consumers to continue to direct them to what is important to them, we don’t see the trend of healthy ingredients disappearing anytime soon. Consumers are actively choosing foods that offer added nutritional and health benefits and give them an advantage, whether it is improved satiety, weight management or foods that help them beat their best performance. NIE



Mintel Menu Insights Foodservice Webinars—Addressing today’s trending food concerns—US—August 2014 with Sr. Analyst Paul Pendola.

Hasler CM, Brown AC. (2009) Position of the American Dietetic Association: functional foods. JADA 109(4): 735-46.

Functional Foods: Key Trends & Developments in Ingredients. Published Feb 25, 2015. http://www.packagedfacts.com/Functional-Foods-Key-8540424/.

West et al., Clinical Nutrition (2014) Probiotic supplementation for respiratory and gastrointestinal illness symptoms in healthy physically active individuals.

www.foodinsight.org/sites/default/files/2015%20Food%20and%20Health%20Survey%20-%20FINAL.pdf (slide 50 , 53).

Data Monitor London. www.datamonitor.com/store/Product/opportunities_in_plant_based_proteins?productid=CM00234-033.

http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/5519/Functional%20Food%20Consumer%20Survey%20Media%20Webcast.pdf (slide 9).


Tony Andrew is the Global Product Line Leader for the Specialty Isolated Soy Protein business within DuPont Nutrition & Health. He is responsible for developing and implementing global strategy and product development for isolated soy proteins for the nutrition and health & wellness industries. Andrew graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Economics. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration from St. Louis University.

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