Certainly consumers are becoming more receptive to the idea of functional foods. According to a recent report from Datamonitor, sales of functional foods have increased by around seven percent a year between 1999 and 2004, when the US market was worth $19 billion at retail.
Datamonitor did suggested, though, that there is a lack of trust from consumers - a message that has also been echoed by ACNeilsen. But if the consumer recognizes and trusts the brand of the ingredient, this may go some way towards quelling their misgivings.
Almost every ingredient maker exploring branding cites the success of Intel as a model they would wish to replicate; the 'Intel Inside' sticker has become de rigueur for every computer maker the world over.
So the idea works for computers, but will consumers accept the same model for foods too?
Cargill, whose brands include Corowise, Prolisse, and Barliv, thinks so.
Steve Snyder, VP sales and marketing, told NutraIngredients-USA.com that the Corowise brand of plant sterols adds to much value to the end product the company can be selective about use it.There is an element of exclusivity," he said.
Cargill has admitted just six 'host brands' into its Corowise brand family - Minute Maid, Nature Valley, Yoplait, Rice Dream, Lifetime and GNC Heart Advance - although it does supply the ingredient to non-brand partners too.
Criteria for using the brand include a healthful meaning behind the host brand, being a leader in their field, adherence to quality and ethics and regulatory diligence.
"We have a lot of good feelings and respect for our non-brand partners as well," said Snyder. "We are proud of the way we have developed a model for working with our partners."
A good working relationship between the consumer brand team and the ingredient brand team is key to the success of the exercise, he added.
Precise information on the impact of the brand has on consumers is kept closely under wraps, but Pam Stauffer, marketing programs manager, said that the brands and logos are not just dreamed up within the walls of Cargill. The process involves consumers themselves.
The indication here, then, is that consumers do want branded ingredients on their products. Marketed in the right way, they inspire trust. More than that, creating a demand for the ingredient at consumer level can stir manufacturers' interest in using it. But not all ingredient companies approach the market with the same attitude of exclusivity as Cargill.
With its Meg-3 brand of fish-derived omega-3, Ocean Nutrition Canada (ONC) is setting out to capture consumers' imaginations around the world.
Over the course of the last year, the distinctive logo has started to appear on products such as bread, milk and yoghurt. And in Hong Kong, it has even moved beyond packaging and onto TV screens, as the little fish named Meg put in an appearance in advertisements for an omega-3 milk.
While manufacturers seem to be jumping aboard, it is still relatively early days for the consumer products. Early indications are positive: since Hong Kong's Lark Dairies has reported that its Trappist Brand Milk with MEG-3 is outselling its regular milk by a 2:1 ratio. While the research and media attention paid to omega-3 from fish oil may be more of a factor that the brand initially, this is sure to help the brand become established.
Acatris, on the other hand, seeking to do more than just create a buzz about its own brand of flax lignans, LinumLife. Rather, it is aiming to boost the whole category of flax lignans through the Flax Lignan Information Bureau (www.flaxlignaninfo.com).
Jocelyn Mathern, registered dietician for Acatris told NutraIngredients-USA.com that the company has seen a lot of requests for information on where they can buy LinumLife since the bureau launched.
She could not give precise figures for registrants to the site, but said that their number includes marketing professionals, manufacturers and consumers.
Mathern said that last year the company was being told that lignans are complicated, and consumers do not know about their benefits. By taking it upon itself to educate consumers about the ingredients, Acatris is encouraging manufacturers to make products containing them.
As to whether consumers are more hungry for ingredient brands or for consumer brands, it seems people want a brand they can trust - and at the more savvy end of the scale there is every likelihood this could be the ingredient. Which ingredient, if any, attains universal recognition to become the Intel of the food industry remains to be seen.