Consumers making healthy fat distinction
good for them, stimulating growth in the market for polyunsaturated
fatty acids like omega-3 and CLA, says Leatherhead.
There have been considerable efforts to educate consumers about the dangers of consuming saturated and hydrogenated fats, and the industry has responded by reformulating a raft of products with less of the kinds of fats that can influence heart and other health aspects. At the same time, the market for fats like omega-3 and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) have exploded in recent years, as more evidence has come to light on how they can actually help maintain health and wellbeing. This means that while such ingredients have found a place in niche health or functional food products, they can increasingly be used in products billed as mainstream, without being bundled in with a generally negatively perceived group known simply as 'fats'. Leatherhead Food International is organising a two-day conference in October called Oils and Fats for a Healthy Future, which will set out the opportunities that are open to companies in this area - both now and in the future. The UK-based consultancy says that, in addition to omega-3 and CLA, essential oils and phytosterols are also turning up in key food and drink sectors. "Whether it's replacing fats, reformulating with healthier ones or fortifying products, manufacturers will need to understand the science behind these potential oils of the future, how to communicate this to consumers and how best to address regulatory hurdles when making health claims," said Leatherhead. While the first day of the event will deal with market trends and development, including health claims and adherence with the new EU legislation, the second will be more technical in its focus. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has set out guidelines for the industry on how it should reduce saturated fat in food products. Speakers will examine the challenges that these guidelines present, as well as possible solutions to help companies meet them. In its consultation launched earlier this year, the FSA proposed an aim of reducing saturated fat intakes to no more than 11 per cent of food energy. This target was based on advice published by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) in 1994, as part of a report on Nutrition Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease. It will deal with new departures in healthy oils, such as DAG (diacylglycerols) oils, found in vegetable oils in small quantities and looking set to make an entrance in Europe in the future, and oils derived from plants like hemp, borage, camelina and fruits, that can help cater to consumer desire for new niche and premium products. In addition the speakers, who are to include "academics and specialists in their own field" will present the latest research on the health benefits of olive oil, omega-3 and phytosterols. Leatherhead has led other projects to examine possibilities in healthy fats this year, including an industry collaboration announced in January to understand the functionality and physico-chemical properties of DAGs alone and in combination with TAGs (triacylglycerols). The ultimate aim of this undertaking has been to see how these substances could be used by food manufacturers to improve product quality and nutrition and, ultimately, reduce incidence of obesity.