This year's SIAL, the huge food fair held in Paris every two years, showed that drinks' companies are more than ever likely to play the health card, with 14.3 per cent of new launches last year getting in on this trend.
And industry is also beginnng to adopt health messages aimed at increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables. The olive oil sector, with an ever-growing body of research to demonstrate the plant's health benefits, has been working hard to push the traditional appetizer further into the health foods category.
South African firm Lanquedoc used SIAL to launch its H2Olive drink, said to be the first drinkable olive-based beverage. The raw materials come from the company's own mineral water source and olive farm.
Already used in a range of skincare products, the emulsion proved popular with the industry and has already gained its first orders. The product is being pushed for its effects on 'inner and outer beauty'.
"It is not 100 per cent clear yet if it works the same way as in cosmetic products but we are going to study this aspect," Martin Hartman, director of marketing and development, told NutraIngredients.com.
Another olive innovation highlighted by the SIAL committee contained added omega-3 fatty acids. La Espanola Alimentaria Alcoyana is marketing the stuffed olives as good for the heart alongside another variant enriched with soy for higher protein and fibres.
A small French start-up, Banactiv, was awarded for its clever use of banana fibre in an energy-boosting puree. The ready-to-eat banana jelly is packaged in a resealable aluminum foil pack, designed to be consumed half an hour before sports activity.
This product not only offers the vitamins and nutrients of a daily fruit portion but also acts as a functional food.
Functional drinks, particularly energy drinks, continued to make up a sizeable number of the innovations but there is a clear slowdown in the trend, according to the SIAL committee. Sophistication is however gaining points in this category.
One product to maximise both factors was the Swedish energy drink Nexcite containing the herbs mate, ginseng, guarana and shizandra and damiana, and selected for its composition as well as market positioning.
Health has also been increasingly important in the dairy sector, with Spanish group Leche Pascual introducing the first prebiotic dairy drinks - Mas Vital - as well as an energising milk drink with fruit juices and egg, called Activ Plus.
Overall the committee noted that industry is using fewer "technical" terms to explain the functionality of products but using more natural ingredients and natural sounding names on the latest launches.
As H2Olive's Martin Hartman explained, "with olive oil and water, you don't have to explain the health benefits".
The overall picture looks like the industry is beginning to make use of increasing awareness of the 5-a-day message from government, as well as growing interest in the inherent nutritional qualities of plant and natural foods over medicines.