Food and drink manufacturers applied for 1,269 applications to patent food globally in 2016 – up 7.9% (1,176) from 2010, according to research from EMW.
Global firms were increasingly investing in ‘designer foods’ with clean-label and free-from credentials, as new technology and continuing trends towards health and fitness – particularly among younger people – drove innovation in the sector, it added.
EMW said food that offered health benefits was a fast-growth area for the food industry, with high profit margins and high levels of research and development based around nutraceuticals and functional foods.
Barrier to entry
Patents can protect the technology used by companies when developing products within these areas, and create a barrier to entry for competitors, it claimed.
Unilever and Nestlé led the way in 2016, with 87 and 77 patents filed respectively. Others in the top-10 list included Royal DSM, Danone and Cargill.
EMW’s research found that a significant number of patents filed were related to immunity-enhancing foods – for example, as dietary supplements containing ginseng and jujube.
Other patent trends were ‘unprocessed’ health products, such as coconut oils, and nutraceuticals such as protein powders and omega-3 products. Machinery for producing lactose-free milk and gluten-free bread was also proving popular, EMW said.
Trends such as clean-eating
The continuing rise in trends such as clean-eating has largely been driven by a growing health consciousness among younger generations, claimed Mark Finn, principal at EMW.
This was being helped by social media influencers such as health food blogger Deliciously Ella, he suggested.
“The clean-eating trend has helped revolutionise the premium end of the food industry, as consumers become more selective about the food they buy,” Finn said.
“The popularity of free-from products, such as gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan goods, has also grown in recent years.”