Chia on the cusp of joining protein and omega-3 in mainstream functional food/beverage ranks: Marketing expert


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Chia on the cusp of joining protein and omega-3 in mainstream functional food/beverage ranks: Marketing expert

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Increasing numbers of products with superfoods like chia will see this favorite of the Aztecs joining the mainstream functional food/beverage ranks, says a leading marketing expert.

Superfoods like chia and flax are gaining increasing attention, particularly in sectors like gluten-free, with the opportunities for the grains being discussed during the recent IBIE 2013 in Las Vegas. Fibers like chia were heralded for their digestive and glycemic health properties as well as the ability to reduce calories in baked goods, and in terms of functionality have high process stability, good gut tolerance and can improve texture.

Jeff Hilton, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Brandhive, told us that it’s not just about bakery; chia going into all foods and beverages.

“[At the recent] Expo East there were tons of chia-products,”​ he observed. 

Omega-3 has joined the ranks of the mainstream functional food category, he said, led by protein and fiber. "On the cusp are the grains like chia,"​ he added. 

Jeff Hilton, Brandhive
Jeff Hilton, Brandhive

Hemp is more peripheral at this stage, said Hilton, but hemp-containing products are being launched in the natural health food channels. The ingredient is not without controversy, however, with Chobani announcing recently it would remove hemp seeds from its Blueberry Power Flip Greek yogurt pots, after the US Air Force banned consumption of the product over concerns about the seeds' potential to produce false positive drug test results.

At the upcoming SupplySide West show in Las Vegas, traditionally a show for dietary supplements, Hilton expects to see more in the functional food and beverage realm.

“I think you will see a lot of attention on the GRAS status of ingredients, and there will be more discussions about functional food and beverages.”

Beyond coconut water

Hilton said that, on the beverage side, there is a move to capitalize on the coconut water trend. “I used to think this was a fad but now it seems mainstream,”​ he said. Tapping into that trend are products like maple water, he said, which is getting more and more attention.

POM-Coconut portrait

POM has launched a range of products which has them blending pomegranate with coconut, he said, while others in the range include pomegranate plus pineapple juice, and pomegranate plus mango.

“Here’s a company that has been very single-minded about their product, but are now incorporating coconut and mango,” ​said Hilton.


Despite lots of media coverage about energy drinks and shots, and concerns over the caffeine content of these products, consumers are definitely still looking for energy, he said.

“There is some discussion about caffeine, but not too many viable alternatives,” ​he said. “Consumers are open to other sources for their energy but many don’t deliver”​. Hilton did note that Chromadex’s PurEnergy ingredient (a blend of caffeine and pterostilbene to extend the half-life of caffeine in the body and provide prolong energy) will be interesting to watch.

On the flip side of energy are the relaxation drinks, products described by Hilton as a fad and not a real trend. “The term ‘relaxation shot’ is an oxymoron,” ​he said. “Shots as a delivery form are synonymous with energy.

“There are lots of other strategies to relax. I don’t think consumers look to relaxation shots for this.”


Kellogg's To Go

About 31 million Americans don’t eat breakfast are said to skip breakfast. While there is a widely held belief that skipping breakfast can lead to weight gain – a belief that “exceeds the strength of scientific evidence”​, according to a recent review by Dr David Allison​, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham – new options are being launched to offer consumers convenient and on-the-go alternatives.

Kellogg’s recently launched a range of, “To Go breakfast shakes as a new, on-the-go solution for breakfast skippers”​. 

Hilton said that, “we’ve been down that instant breakfast road before, but with fewer people having the time to sit and eat a bowl of cereal there is demand for ‘grab and go’ products.”

Health conditions


So which health conditions does Hilton see as the main drivers for functional food and beverages? “Heart health is always big, and you have joint health. An interesting one to watch, no pun intended, is eye health. Insightful Solutions LLC launched a nectar product labeled as a supplement called OJO Fortified Liquid Eye Care Nectar offering a “doctor-formulated beverage designed to help protect and preserve vision. Each OJO contains ingredients clinically shown by the National Eye Institute’s AREDS study to promote eye health”​.

Cognition is also interesting, he said, with functional beverage products like Nawgan​ continuing to build market share.

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