Complexity, recession stall functional foods sales

Articles
June 30, 2009

Complexity, recession stall functional foods sales

What’s a functional food consumer to think when the popular Cheerios brand hears from the FDA that it may need an approved new drug application to keep its longstanding claim “clinically proven to lower cholesterol?” Sure, whole grain oats have long been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease (21 CFR 101.81). Remember Quaker Oats was the pioneer. But now it’s time for FDA to talk with General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, and other food manufacturers about the evidence-based claims they can place on their labels. Consumer uptake of functional foods has been stalled by the over-promise and under-delivery by certain brands in spreads, dairy, snacks and beverages, to name a few. Now comes added confusion because one of the brands people found easy to believe in faces a labeling challenge under the current team of FDA officials. Here’s our SupermarketGuru.com take on the concept of functional foods overall: The idea that we could create foods that prevent or cure disease hasn’t performed to full potential because the foods haven’t been functional enough to make a difference. One example: we feel the claims by spreads that they reduce cholesterol might be somewhat unrealistic because the regimen would require multiple portions a day over the long-term, and that’s not the way people routinely eat. Flavored chews do make it easier to consume the beneficial plant stanol esters, but we believe this still requires a lot of meal and snack planning. Moreover, if truly committed consumers forgo their (possibly expensive) medications in favor of the spread, this could pose a health risk.

What’s a functional food consumer to think when the popular Cheerios brand hears from the FDA that it may need an approved new drug application to keep its longstanding claim “clinically proven to lower cholesterol?”

Sure, whole grain oats have long been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease (21 CFR 101.81). Remember Quaker Oats was the pioneer. But now it’s time for FDA to talk with General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, and other food manufacturers about the evidence-based claims they can place on their labels.

Consumer uptake of functional foods has been stalled by the over-promise and under-delivery by certain brands in spreads, dairy, snacks and beverages, to name a few. Now comes added confusion because one of the brands people found easy to believe in faces a labeling challenge under the current team of FDA officials.

Here’s our SupermarketGuru.com take on the concept of functional foods overall: The  idea that we could create foods that prevent or cure disease hasn’t performed to full potential because the foods haven’t been functional enough to make a difference. One example: we feel the claims by spreads that they reduce cholesterol might be somewhat unrealistic because the regimen would require multiple portions a day over the long-term, and that’s not the way people routinely eat. Flavored chews do make it easier to consume the beneficial plant stanol esters, but we believe this still requires a lot of meal and snack planning.  Moreover, if truly committed consumers forgo their (possibly expensive) medications in favor of the spread, this could pose a health risk.

Nevertheless, a new Packaged Facts report, Functional Foods and Beverages in the U.S., noted a slowdown in the sales growth of functional foods in 2008, to a 6% rate. Recession or no recession, PF’s online poll of 2,600 U.S. adults in early-2009 shows that 55% would rather buy foods for nutritional benefits rather than vitamins or supplements.  One in six (16%) “agreed strongly” that they buy more foods for this purpose. Hence, the PF projection for functional foods sales to grow 40% over the next five years, from the $30.7 billion posted in 2008.

But these sales are probably not coming from the majority of shoppers today who are trading down, rather than paying premium prices for functional foods and beverages loaded with label claims.

A separate Mintel study, 2008 Prepared Foods R&D Trends Survey, revealed that 55% eat these foods to help offset other unhealthy eating habits.  Some 37% call functional foods supplementary to a healthy diet; 31% regard them as natural ‘treatments’ for specific conditions or to facilitate weight loss.

We get it—something good with something bad. Still, we think it will take sharpened offerings, clearer messaging and cringe when we see examples such as the ones cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article: collagen-infused marshmallows, soft drinks with vitamins, and ketchup and salsa with probiotics. Make these foods easy to buy and consume to capture anticipated growth, or risk the same fate as many failures that lacked credibility.