Cargill argues that food and beverage manufacturers in the U.S. can positively impact today's rising healthcare costs by developing products that address specific health and lifestyle issues.
In a recent presentation entitled Health through Foods … an Economic Solution, Cargill Health & Food Technologies (HF&T) President Ted Ziemann outlined what he believes is a growing opportunity for functional foods.
"Health expenditures represent the largest component of the $11.7 trillion U.S. economy," he said at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California-Davis.
"That translates into approximately $4,500 per person annually. Obesity is an epidemic, affecting 64 percent of Americans and is contributing to serious health risks including diabetes and heart disease. New healthy foods that help address these health conditions offer promising solutions for consumers of all ages."
Ziemann noted that functional food sales now exceed supplement sales, driven by an aging population and a fast-paced lifestyle, as well an increased reliance on convenience foods and simplified meal planning. Further, Americans are becoming increasingly independent about their healthcare decisions, depending more than ever on their own resources to stay healthy.
As a result the functional foods category, which makes up one percent of the food industry, is growing by ten percent each year and the race amongst companies to develop foods with health benefits that are commercially successful is well underway.
However, many food and beverage companies are still finding that functional foods are more appealing when terms that consumers already perceive to be good for them are used. Linda Gilbert, president of market analyst HealthFocus International, told nutraingredients-usa.com recently that tomatoes, fish and oats still carry more clout than scientific-sounding ingredients that may not yet have entered consumer consciousness despite increasing usage by the media.
Nonetheless, Cargill is confident that consumers are beginning to be turned onto the functional food trend.
"Through better consumer education, our industry is helping Americans understand that functional foods offer ingredient fortification, assistance with weight management and help with disease management. We believe that's why we're seeing greater acceptance by mainstream consumers."
"It is imperative that the food industry continues to respond with efficacious products that have credible benefits, and sophisticated 'natural' solutions that taste good."
In January, Cargill announced that it is accelerating its development of new health-promoting ingredients and ingredient systems to help food and beverage manufacturers develop consumer products that meet the dietary and nutritional recommendations included in the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.
Cargill's solutions range from ingredient systems for orange juice, yogurt and smoothies that may promote heart health and lower cholesterol (when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol), to inulin, resistant starches, soluble fibers for healthy breads, and whole wheat flour and whole corn products that increase fiber intake and provide other health benefits as well.