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Europe’s Leading Health Trends: What is Driving Innovation and Opportunities for Functional Ingredients?

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More natural, more protein and more nutritional content in general; this is where the European health and wellness market seems to be heading in the immediate future. In this article, we look at those health and wellness prime positioning platforms that are predicted to achieve the highest growth performance in Eastern and Western Europe over the 2014-2019 forecast period.

Weight management: All about nutrient density and protein

After general wellbeing, weight management is the largest positioning platform for health and wellness food and beverages in both Eastern and Western Europe, with value sales amounting to US$57.1 billion in 2014. Due to market saturation, particularly in Western Europe, growth expectations over 2014-2019 are not exactly overwhelming.

However, since obesity is set to remain a foremost public health concern in Europe for the foreseeable future, the market for products that address this issue will continue to evolve, even if it will not gain much in size.

The high protein trend is going to have a pronounced impact, as protein is believed to promote satiety, moderate cravings and maintain muscle tissue, the latter of which is of key importance for fat burning. The trend, which started in the US, is being most eagerly adopted across Europe. European consumers love their protein, especially in the form of meat, cheese and eggs, and any excuse to eat more of these is welcome.

Something has to give, of course, and that something is carbs. But we are not about to see a return to the extreme days of the Atkins diet. Consumers enjoy their carbohydrate foods, and most are not willing to sacrifice them, but carbs will have to work increasingly harder to garner consumer appeal. Carbohydrate calories will need to prove that they are “worth it”, and this means maximising on nutrient density, preferably of the natural kind contained in the grain.

In other words: refined white flours and processed potato products are out, while “heritage” and “ancient” supergrains, such as quinoa, Kamut, teff, spelt, oats and buckwheat are in. Besides vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fibre, protein content will be increasingly important in bakery products, particularly for breakfast and snack foods, which creates plenty of room for innovation in the form of protein ingredients.

Beauty from within: Stay away from complicated ingredients, focus on protein and produce

We predict that products positioned as enhancing beauty from within will prove the most dynamic over the 2014-2019 forecast period, both in Eastern and Western Europe, in terms of value growth. This high growth performance – 58% in Eastern Europe and 30% in Western Europe over the 5-year forecast period – is founded on fairly small base sales, however, amounting to just US$175 million in 2014 for both regions combined.

In terms of innovation, a certain degree of caution is advised. European consumers are traditionally quite sceptical of “beauty enhancing” food and beverage products, although the link between health, healthy eating and beauty is firmly accepted. Fancy functional beauty ingredients, on the other hand, may work well in cosmetics and, to some degree, in nutritional supplements, but transferability to food and beverages, at least in Europe, has so far been fairly limited.

Where beauty from within food and beverages are concerned, the buzzword is and shall remain “natural”. And this is where the protein trend, which is finding much resonance in Europe, comes into play.

There is a persuasive, well-established link between beauty and protein: collagen, the body’s main structural protein responsible for smooth cheeks and plump lips, the demise of which is one of the most visible signs of ageing, is a protein. Therefore, being promoted as “rich in the beauty protein collagen”, for example, is likely to exert significantly more traction now than it would have done before the advent of the high protein trend.

Furthermore, the consumption of fruits and vegetables is inextricably linked with health and beauty in consumers’ minds, and there is also a considerable body of scientific evidence supporting this premise.

Fruit and vegetables are food items that most people on modern diets are always told they are not getting enough of. Consumers find it notoriously difficult to integrate five to 10 portions (official consumption recommendations vary from country to country) into their daily diets, and any help that manufacturers can offer them to get a little more healthy goodness from fruit and vegetable sources is usually welcomed. Phytochemicals that occur naturally in fruit and vegetables, eg anti-oxidants, including carotenoids known to protect the skin from sun damage and impart a healthy glow, enjoy widespread credibility and consumer awareness.

Products enriched with fruit and vegetable concentrate possess great appeal from the outset, and a beauty from within positioning is a comely launch pad. Overcomplicated educational messages are superfluous in this case, as consumer acceptance of the fruit and vegetable beauty link is already very well established.

Gluten-free products to become more nutrient dense

After beauty from within, food intolerance is predicted to emerge as the most dynamic category over the forecast period in Western Europe, with an envisaged value sales increase of 27%, while in Eastern Europe, still appreciable growth of 18% is expected. A major driver of category sales is the growing consumer resolution to reduce their gluten intake.

It is widely known that most gluten-free products these days are not purchased by coeliac disease sufferers, who have a medically diagnosed need to eliminate gluten from their diets, but by consumers who are convinced that gluten is not good for them, for a wide variety of reasons, which include skin rashes, fatigue, and digestive problems.

With gluten-free products having established themselves in Europe as a mainstream lifestyle choice, the quality and consistency of these offerings is now increasingly coming under scrutiny. Health professionals have long criticised manufacturers of gluten-free foods for churning out products made from highly refined starches and gluten-replacers like xantham gum, which lack any nutritive merits beyond “empty” calories. For public health reasons, many countries have laws requiring standard white wheat flour to be fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and folic acid, but this does not apply to gluten-free flours.

Today’s health and wellness consumers are really quite nutrition savvy, and nutritionally substandard products, gluten-free or not, just will not do. This means that the scope for new product development in this area is, quite frankly, staggering. Naturally gluten-free “supergrains”, like amaranth and quinoa, for example, are high in protein, fibre and a whole host of other nutrients, which directly keys into other mainstream health and wellness trends, eg high protein and natural.

Relaxation: The flip side of energy boosting

Energy boosters, the vast majority of which are sold in energy drinks format, are as popular as they are contentious. Energy boosting as a prime positioning platform for food and beverages is predicted to achieve the second highest value growth rate, 19%, in Eastern Europe over the forecast period, after beauty from within. In Western Europe, although in third place behind beauty from within and food intolerance, the anticipated value growth over 2014-2019 is an even more dynamic 23%.

Lithuania’s ban on sales of energy drinks to under-18-year-olds, which came into effect in early November 2014, is not going to do much to dispel the popularity of these products, and certainly not among young male consumers, their primary target group.

However, there is a flipside to the coin: while most consumers, regardless of age, will feel the need for a little energy boost every now and again, and whether they achieve this by means of imbibing an energy drink or choosing to go down the more traditional route that is coffee and tea, they also need to be able to relax at some point.

Many consumers will not touch caffeine-containing beverages late in the day for fear that it may result in a restless night. For some, the cut-off point for caffeine intake is the early afternoon, while a not insignificant number even choose to eschew caffeine altogether. Insomnia is a widespread and pernicious problem in highly industrialised countries, and one that is hugely detrimental to wellbeing and performance at work.

Traditionally, European consumers have turned to herbal teas to calm their minds and bodies, such as chamomile tea and valerian, but this is not always appropriate, particularly during the hot summer months. There is currently a gap in the market for cold beverages designed to be both refreshing and relaxing. Because the natural trend rules, functional ingredients for products positioned thusly will need to be based on botanicals, preferably those already known to consumers as producing a relaxation effect. Preferences and familiarity with botanicals may vary between regions, so manufacturers need to do their homework.

Cardiovascular health: Focus on diabetes

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is and will remain the number one cause of death in the foreseeable future across Europe. According to the European Heart Network, CVD is responsible for 47% of all deaths in the EU. While cardiovascular health-positioned food and beverages are predicted to garner a fairly commendable value growth performance of 17% in Eastern Europe over the 2014-2019 forecast period, because base sales are still small, in the Western part of the region, the category is going to remain stagnant. But this does not mean that consumers are growing disinterested in cardiovascular health, quite the contrary. It just means that they are inclined to tackle the issue from several different angles.

European consumers are generally aware that one key approach to preventing CVD is to manage their diabetes well, or even to prevent becoming diabetic in the first place. Diabetes is a major risk factor for CVD, and, according to the WHO, Europe is home to around 60 million people with diabetes, with prevalence increasing for people of all ages.

On the whole, the food and beverages that are recommended for diabetics are also heart healthy. For many, breakfast is the trickiest meal of the day. Mornings are usually the time when blood glucose levels are at their peak, and consuming a sugary breakfast cereal or other bakery products high in refined carbohydrates might just push them through the roof.

Fortunately, the days when diabetics were given the blanket advice to restrict their carbohydrate intake to a bare minimum are long behind us. What is important, as it is now recognised, is to choose the ‘right’ carbohydrate foods, namely complex ones with plenty of fibre and a low glycaemic index (GI).

Oats have long been enjoying the reputation of being the perfect choice for both diabetics and people concerned about heart disease. But it cannot all be about porridge. Like all consumers, diabetics want choice, as well as convenience, and this means RTE breakfast cereals that are customised to their metabolic needs.

Therefore, what we expect to see in the near future is the emergence of legume-based breakfast cereals. Legumes are touted by nutritionists as ideal foods for helping to stabilise diabetics’ turbulent blood sugar levels, but, unfortunately, intake in most European countries is paltry. Legume-based snack products, incorporating chick peas, lentils, and a wide variety of beans, are on the rise, and there is no way why these types of formulations should not also be successful for breakfast cereals.


Hear Ewa Hudson speak on the topic further at Health ingredients Europe with the presentation - A 5 year Forecast on Leading Health Trends in Europe: What’s Driving Innovation and Opportunities for Functional Ingredients?

Tuesday, 2 December 2014 at 11-11.30am

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