Functional and health foods dominate 2006 predictions

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Omega-3, superfruits, wholegrains and chocolate - four of the
trends in packaged goods tipped by ProductScan Online to take the
market by storm in 2006.

Since the demise of the low carb trend, the packaged goods market has been left wide open for other health and wellness trends to make their mark, according to the Datamonitor division.

Of these, omega-3 is one of the most prevalent, with a spate of mainstream foods products such as bread, milk, pasta, eggs and yogurt containing DHA and EPA launched in the past year. Up until December 5 2005, ProductScan recorded 308 skus of omega-3 products launched in the US market, whether from a marine or a vegetarian source, compared to 171 in 2004.

Consumers' awareness was given a boost in September 2004 when the FDA extended the qualified health claim linking DHA and EPA to reduced risk of coronary heart disease from dietary supplements to foods.

The market researcher anticipates that some of the biggest names in the food industry may board the bandwagon in the coming year, following Danone's example in Canada, where it recently launched Cardivia omega-3 yogurt.

Another term that has made an impression on consumer consciousness is 'antioxidant'. Although it refers, rather nebulously, to any substance that helps prevent cell damage through oxidation, research has shown that certain fruits pack a particularly powerful punch.

The Brazilian fruit acai is said to be "nearing breakout status"​ in packaged foods and beverages. The first skus were recorded by ProductScan in 2004, when there were 15 products. In 2005 to December 5 there were 19 launches. Others antioxidant fruits, such as pomegranate, guarana, noni, mangosteen, goji betrries, blueberries and black currants are considered "up and coming"​.

Dark chocolate's reputation as an antioxidant is also gaining ground; confectionary Mars recently launched its CocoaVia healthy chocolate bar and has been a major force in the unfolding research.

In the beverage market, ProductScan says that hot chocolate drinks are starting to encroach on territory traditionally occupied by coffee - especially in products where it contains a shot of caffeine.

ProductScan said that a deluge of wholegrain products has hit the market in 2005 - 248 skus up until December 2, compared to 248 in the whole of 2004.

And with wholegrains featuring large in the USDA's new Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid as an excellent source of fiber, next year's offerings could be received by newly-educated consumers who are eager to receive the benefits.

There is a flip side of the wholegrain trend however - one that could also be on the point of exploding. Gluten is found in grains like wheat and rye, and finds its way into many packaged foods like bread, cookies and beer.

But for the 3 million Americans who suffer from autoimmune intestinal disorder celiac disease, gluten is a big no-no. At last, it seems, food companies are starting to cater to their needs: in the first 10 months of 2005 691 new gluten-free products came to market, compared to just 187 in 2001.

Other healthy trends pinpointed by ProductScan are energy products, portion-controlled products, and the mainstream momentum of organics.

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