Food products with lower levels of 'bad' ingredients, such as fat and sugar, have seen a sharp rise in popularity over the past year, heading up new food and beverage product launches in 2006, according to Mintel.
The market researcher used its Global New Products Database (GNPD) to track almost 150,000 food and drink launches last year.
The "record-breaking barrage" of new consumer packaged goods - including non-food products - marked a 17 percent increase compared to new launches in 2005. This more than doubled the growth in new launches from 2004-2005.
According to Mintel, 'food minus' items became big hits with consumers in 2006. These included products that highlighted a reduced content of fat, calories, sugar and cholesterol.
"The significant shift to more products with better-for-you positioning helped boost new product launches in 2006," said David Jago, director of Mintel Custom Solutions.
"The strong focus in many categories is on promoting good health, which can be seen in the most popular product claims. Companies are offering more products that enhance well-being for consumers," he added.
According to Mintel's GNPD, the 'food minus' category was led by low or no trans-fat and gluten-free products, both of which showed "major increases" .
Last year, low or no trans-fat product launched grew by nearly 120 percent, more than doubling from 2005. This was primarily due to North American regulations, as the region accounts for 80 percent of these food and drink claims, said Mintel, adding that the trend shows development promise, particularly in Europe.
Gluten-free saw an 86 percent jump in 2006 product launches, with strong growth in North America, Europe and Latin America. Companies are placing a stronger focus on allergen-free foods, which have seen greater growth into mainstream retailers, according to the market researcher.
In contrast, low-carb products continued to decline in popularity with consumers. The category posted only 500 global food introductions in 2006, less than half the level of launches achieved in the same category in 2005, and only 15 percent of the launches introduced during its peak in 2004.
Another major driver in new product launches was the growing 'ethical' food trend, which "doesn't show any signs of slowing in 2007," said Mintel.
Ethical products are defined as those that include ingredients linked to fair trade or sustainability, also expanding to products that make ecological claims or link to charitable concerns. Food and drink product launches with an ethical positioning nearly doubled last year, with ethical labeling appearing in more diverse product categories.
Organic, a "rising star" in food for the last few years, is also continuing to see major developments.
'Superfoods' also greatly impacted mainstream CPG product launches in 2006. Pomegranate was one of the most popular ingredients of the year, especially in beverages.
Due to the fruit's major success, companies are looking for the next big star, which Mintel forecasts could be found in the antioxidant-rich açaí berry.
"Açaí lends itself well to premium, indulgence positioning, offering all of the health benefits of other superfood ingredients. It has a strong exotic appeal, bolstered by its Amazonian origination. We really see the fruit as the one to watch for ingredient sourcing in the future," said Mintel's Lynn Dornblaser.