The market for functional foods on a heart-health platform could get a new lease of life in the next two years as new bioactive ingredients hit the market and claims approved under the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation are finally published, predict ingredients firms.
While there has been a lot of activity around oats, wholegrain and omega-3, there has not been much radical innovation in heart health products in the last year, according to Mintel: "Most of the 25 new launches in the year to June 2008 have been packaging variants or line extensions rather than genuine innovations based on new ingredients."
Mintel also notes a shift away from fortifying foods with 'functional' ingredients towards a focus on the inherent cardiovascular benefits of well-known foods, typified by launches such as beetroot juice (claimed to lower blood pressure), speckled lentils and wholegrain muesli (for a healthy heart), and oat-based cereals for cholesterol-reduction.
By contrast, higher priced cholesterol-busting 'functional' foods containing plant sterols have suffered. Benecol admits UK sales were flat last year and Unilever reveals "confusion amongst consumers has been a barrier for products such as Flora pro.activ" (sales of which were down 12% in 2007, according to ACNielsen). However, both brands insist sales have rallied again in 2008.
There is also plenty of activity beyond cholesterol-reduction. Despite the high-profile withdrawal of Unilever's pro.activ blood pressure-lowering mini drinks in 2006, a far smaller firm called Works with Water has secured listings at Morrison and Tesco for its blood pressure lowering water 120/80 (also based on dairy peptides), suggesting supermarket buyers still believe the market has potential.
And Unilever, which has just launched blood pressure-lowering shots in the US containing potassium, is widely rumoured to be planning a fresh assault on this market in the UK.
It is also developing spreads containing a patented tomato extract from ingredients partner Provexis that is claimed to reduce the risk of blood clots - which can trigger heart attacks and strokes.
Meanwhile, polyphenols from apples, green tea and cocoa are also likely to be included in new launches as more evidence emerges about their impact on multiple risk factors for heart disease, from stiff arteries, hypertension, high cholesterol and insulin sensitivity to oxidative stress, predict suppliers.
One firm hoping to cash in is Coressence, which is focusing on resurrecting ancient apple varieties rich in the artery-friendly flavan-3-ols, and looking to collaborate with partners to take them to market. Others include chocolate giants Mars and Barry Callebaut, which are pioneering research into the effects of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health.
While suppliers claim there is still a strong pipeline of products on a heart health platform containing omega-3s under development, many manufacturers are now looking for something new, says Joy Thomas at ingredients distributor Cornelius. "Omega-3 still has big potential, particularly in brain health. But now we're seeing more interest in weight management and satiety."