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Food Ingredients: The Future of Healthy and Novel Innovations

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A backdrop of sustained inflationary pressures and consumers cutting back on pricy groceries does not seem to bode well for health and wellness foods. Yet, post-COVID-19 consumer mindsets are also geared towards getting healthier with the right foods. Innovation will need to answer growing expectations for more plant-based variants and gut health propositions. Exciting new frontiers for development also include positioning around the mind and women’s health.

Don’t follow, drive the away-from-animals trend

The shift from animal-based foods towards plant-based alternatives is transformative in foods. “Vegetarian”, which is fairly established, and “dairy free” or “meat free” which, by definition, are dairy-specific and meat-specific, will not grow quite as fast as “vegan” and “plant-based” claims which are perceived as compelling from a health and sustainability perspective. Three approaches will ensure success in plant-based foods, going forward: clean label, a “plant-forward” approach to innovation – celebrating a plant-based product rather than strictly mimicking an animal-based one – and a multifaceted health positioning that does not rely solely on the plant-based element as a unique selling point. In 2023, Rude Health’s venture into plant-based milk in the UK with Almond and Oat combined a clean label (with three ingredients listed) with “no sugar”, “organic” and “gluten free” claims.Chart showing Selected Health and Wellness Claims and Growth in Foods Globally

Meet new demands with gut health positioning

Increasing knowledge around the benefits of gut health, with its links to the microbiome and to the brain, will drive growth for various related health claims. “Digestive health” and “immune support” are fast-growing; but “gluten free”, “high fibre” and “probiotic” are also promising. Cultured foods, which are associated in consumers’ minds with being “naturally functional”, include further penetration from probiotic positionings in snacks, cakes and pastries. Fermentation is more widely explored across the wider food spectrum; for example, in 2023, Fonterra released cakes with probiotics for the Chinese foodservice channel.

In snacks, pair sugar avoidance with health benefit(s)

The pressure to reduce sugar content and artificial sweeteners is twofold: consumer-led and regulatory. “Low sugar” and “no sugar”, as the more commonly found labels on the market, should expand further.

“No added sugar”, which also signifies “natural” in the eye of the shopper, is on a faster track

Source: Euromonitor International

Here again, added value will truly be perceived if a better for you claim like no added sugar or low sugar is married with other sought-after health claims. In 2023, Ready. Set. Food! Organic Puffs was launched in the US with the aim to introduce children to common allergens. Mouthfeel is enhanced through texture, whilst a “no added sugar” label complements a premium positioning for this snack.Charts showing co-claims about sugar

Look to Asia for innovation in mind and women’s health

Food and drinks designed to support brain capabilities and emotional health are currently most prominent in Asia, but are set to gain a greater role globally in future.

Further segmentation and clear marketing around health benefits, star ingredients, occasions and consumer groups will be essential

Source: Euromonitor International

In the US in 2023, Core Foods released Core Bar, a chilled snack bar claiming to offer stress relief through oats and adaptogens. As well as protein and fibre, key ingredients on the label include antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

Asia also leads the way in the emerging field of women’s health, another vast avenue of opportunities. From the world of vitamins and supplements, brand owners can learn how to build success around women’s biological life stages, whilst equally looking for solutions for the body and the mind. Japanese dairy giant Meiji is among the frontrunners in this area, having funded a study which revealed in late 2023 how flavanol-rich cacao extract can help improve mood states among middle-aged women.

Strike a balance between clean label and a multiple-claim approach

Opportunities abound for innovation in healthy foods in the forecast period. However, in order to capitalise on consumers’ desire to keep well physically and mentally through what they eat, brand owners will need to create clear, yet also multifaceted health propositions that are not only better for you or plant-based but also functional and that provide targeted benefits.

For more on innovation in healthy foods, please see Euromonitor’s report, New Frontiers in Healthy Food and Beverages. 

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