‘Protein is the hottest functional food ingredient trend in the United States’: Packaged Facts


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‘Protein is the hottest functional food ingredient trend in the United States’: Packaged Facts

Related tags Nutrition

Weight management, heart health, and digestive health are the top opportunities for functional food and beverage formulators, with growth in the sector driven by increasingly health-conscious consumers, says a new report from Packaged Facts.

The new report, Functional Foods: Key Trends & Developments in Ingredients​, identifies four drivers for functional food ingredient trends: More health-engaged consumers; healthier snacking driven by Millennials; aging Baby Boomers; and the need for effective approaches to combat obesity.

“Most Americans are aware of functional foods and believe that good nutrition can be used to help manage health,”​ states the report. “In 2013, about one-third of all US adults believed that functional foods and beverages could be substituted for some medicines in the context of an overall health plan, up from 26% in 2010, with higher numbers among Baby Boomers and Mature consumers.”


According to the new report, Millennials seek out food products fortified with calcium, fiber and vitamins and minerals, with this demographic also driving the trend toward more frequent and healthier snacking.

This generation is also seeking out healthier snack foods in addition to and instead of traditional meals, offering flexibility to be consumed in either fashion.  These include everything from yogurt to fresh fruit to nutrition bars, said the report.

At the older end of the spectrum, Baby Boomers are seeking out products that deliver ingredients with potential to promote healthy aging and reduce the risk of age-related conditions and diseases, such as fiber, antioxidants, heart-healthy ingredients, vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium and whole grains. 


Obesity rates are also driving consumers of all ages to seek out weight management products, with this billed as the top health factor facing the industry over the next two years. Data from the report states that processors identify the top health factors as weight management (78%), cardiovascular health (73%), digestive health (71%) and diabetes (69%). Immunity (64%), energy and performance (63%) and cognitive health (62%) also scored highly.

“Increased consumer awareness of health and wellness across the age spectrum and among those seeking to combat obesity will continue to fuel interest in functional foods for the foreseeable future, and therefore the ingredients selected for use and potential claims to be made by food processors and marketers,”​ said David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts research director. 

Developing ingredients

The five ingredients to watch are: 

"Adding plant protein sources to food and beverage applications presents challenges product developers must overcome, including unwanted browning reactions and changes in color, flavor, texture and shelf-life," says the report.

Protein​: “Protein is currently the hottest functional food ingredient trend in the United States,” ​states the report. “It is being added to deliver a wide range of benefits including athletic performance and recovery, to stave off loss of muscle mass with aging, to help with weight loss and management, curbing appetite and promoting satiety.”

Microalgae​: Both Solazyme’s AlgaVia​ and Roquette’s algility​ are mentioned as examples of how microalgae ingredients are offering healthy indulgence in a way that fat replacers of the past attempted but could not achieve.

Omega-3s​: While much has been said about a decline in bulk fish oil sales​, particularly in the dietary supplement space, the news is brighter for the more expensive forms, including krill oil and algae. This shift is being driven by “growing sustainability concerns and demand for more vegetarian sources”​, said the report.


Vitamin D​: Developments with the sunshine vitamin, including Lallemand’s vitamin D2 baker’s yeast being allowed in bread at 400 IU per 100 grams, making it possible for bread bakers to make an “excellent source”​ claim for vitamin D.

While much growth in vitamin sales is driven by the sunshine vitamin, there is resistance to the use of vitamin D to fortify foods.

In her Food Politics​ blog, Marion Nestle from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, writes, “’Vitamin’ D is not a vitamin; it is a hormone synthesized by the action of sunlight on skin.  For this reason alone, it does not belong on the food label.”


Magnesium​: “Along with potassium, magnesium is arguably the hottest up-and-coming dietary mineral, recognized for its many health benefits, which continue to be elucidated,” ​states the report. “Nutritionists and other health professionals promote magnesium consumption from whole food sources as superior to supplements, a finding that Packaged Facts believes will drive the food industry to make “good source” claims on products already containing significant amounts of magnesium and to undertake formulation efforts to achieve “good source” claims for a range of applications, including cereals and bars.”


There is no legal definition of functional food, and the term meaning different things to different people. A position paper by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2013 proposed the definition of functional food to be: “Whole foods along with fortified, enriched, or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence”​. (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics​, 2013, Vol. 113, pp. 1096)

The US leads the world in terms of market size, with sales valued at $43.9 billion in 2012, according to the Nutrition Business Journal​. Japan comes in second with sales of about $22 billion, followed by the UK ($8 billion) and Germany ($6.4 billion). 

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