A Healthy Balance
By SARAH THEODORE
Is America trading fads for facts in ’05?
The beginning of the year is diet season as far as
some are concerned. But magazine headlines that last year promised the
benefits of low-carb are touting “no-diet diets.” TV ads
claim rice snacks are “fad-free” food. The season’s
best-selling diet book is written by a French woman who claims nothing is
forbidden as long as it’s eaten in moderation. Is America simply
between diet fads, or have we finally moved toward the ideal that
nutritionists have talked about all along — balance? And what does it
mean for a food and beverage industry that for years has believed
nutraceutical products are the way of the future?
The good news, according to many industry experts, is
consumers still are looking for better-for-you products; it’s the
trendy, magic-bullet regimes that are out of vogue this year. The better
news is their purchasing decisions might even begin to match their desire
to be healthier.
“People have been looking for healthier things
for a long time; it’s been the thing we’ve talked about in the
food industry for 30 years,” says Randy Gier, executive vice
president of marketing at Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages, Plano,
Texas. “What’s interesting to me as a marketer is that there
seems to have been a fundamental shift about two or three years ago. People
went from talking the talk to walking the walk. For a long time people were
saying they were eating healthier, but they really weren’t. Every
survey that was done on attitudes and perceptions showed that people were
doing a better job, but actual consumption data showed just the
Leading the change is the aging baby boom generation,
which Gier points out is officially over 40 as of the end of 2004.
“As baby boomers reach middle age, this has gone
from a concept to a reality,” he says. “It’s one thing to
talk about being healthier, but it’s another thing to be sitting in
your doctor’s office while he’s writing a prescription for
What’s in, what’s out
The constant shifts in health advice may have many
consumers, and some product developers, frustrated — and Gier says
it’s time to get used to it.
“The industry just needs to get comfortable with
the fact that there is not a definition for this, there isn’t going
to be a definition for this. This is an evolving thing,” he says.
As far as trends that have emerged this year, one of
the most significant is the addition of healthful ingredients to foods and
beverages that already have a good-for-you image. Julian Mellentin of
London’s Centre for Food & Health
Studies recently outlined global attitudes in 10
Key Trends for 2005, citing
“intrinsic health — all foods are fast becoming
functional” as one of the top trends.
“The idea of functional foods as some special
separate category of foods with added health benefits was at last proven to
be redundant [in 2004] as supermarkets filled with a host of everyday foods
— from oats and olive oil to tea, cranberry juice and almonds —
that successfully market themselves on the intrinsic health benefits that
nature has conferred upon them,” Mellentin says in his report.
A recent article in the Chicago
Tribune called the phenomenon
“Medifoods.” “You can’t open a magazine or
newspaper without seeing information about blueberries as antioxidants,
pomegranate juice as an antioxidant, foods as medicines,” a produce
company executive told the newspaper.
The other key trends, according to Mel-lentin’s
report, are health is the future of food; an end to good diets and bad
diets in favor of good and bad foods; the rise of whole grains and
low-glycemic foods; personalized nutrition; bars and beverages as a
delivery vehicle for nutrients; daily-dose nutrition
(as in probiotic and other supplement drinks); a
preference for foods over supplements; products inspired by Asian trends; and a high priority on children’s
The beverage connection
Most beverage-makers would be happy to learn that
drinks are an easy and preferred delivery method for many nutritional
ingredients, especially when combined with products that already have
Minute Maid last year teamed up with Cargill Health
Ingredients to roll out Heart Wise orange juice with CoroWise plant
sterols, and this year took the heart-health message even farther in
conjunction with WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart
Disease. The company pledged to donate a portion of proceeds during the
month of February to women’s heart health, and initiated the Minute
Maid Premium Heart Wise 8-week Challenge for Health and Wellness.
Tropicana has expanded last year’s new line of Light ’N Healthy orange juices with Light
’N Healthy with Pulp. It also joined with Weight Watchers to include
the juice’s “Points” value on product packaging. The
popular Weight Watchers Points system gives a numeric, or point, value to
foods based on calories, fat and fiber content, and the new Tropicana with
pulp product contains one point per 8-ounce serving. It is the first juice
to include the Points system on its labeling.
Fiber is associated with a number of health functions,
and is predicted to be a hot health ingredient this year. Recent changes to
USDA food guidelines emphasize fiber and whole grains, and companies such
as General Mills and Dannon are promoting the fiber content of their cereal
and yogurt products, respectively.
“People are starting to realize the benefits of
fiber and realizing that we don’t get near as much as we should in a
day,” says Hilary Hursh, Nutrition Scientist at Orafti, maker of
Soluble fiber such as inulin can be used to add fiber
to beverages and to reduce sweetener requirements. In addition,
Orafti’s research shows inulin increases the effectiveness of
probiotics — another potentially significant healthy food category.
Probiotics, which have become very popular in beverage and supplement form
in Japan and Europe, are the beneficial bacteria that aid digestion.
Inulin, which is a prebiotic, or the food that sustains the bacteria, have
been shown to increase their vitality.
Although probiotics have been limited to yogurt
products in the United States, Dannon has had a great deal of success
abroad with products such as Actimel and Zen, and has reintroduced
DanActive in the United States. White Wave expanded the application of
probiotics last year, with the rollout of Silk Live!, a cultured soymilk.
The product contains four probiotics for healthy digestion, omega-3 and -6
fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, folic acid, potassium and vitamins A, B,
C, D and E.
“There are so many benefits [of probiotics], and
it fits in perfectly with the Boomers wanting it all,” says Doug
Radi, senior brand manager, Silk. “[Probiotics] are believed to boost
immunity and prevent ailments of the digestive system. Since
gastrointestinal issues remain a major health challenge in our country, it
makes good sense that people will be motivated to add them to their
Making it personal
Another often-cited health trend is personalized nutrition for the specific needs of consumer
demographics. White Wave’s recently released Kid’s Silk soymilk
in animal-themed packaging is one such product.
“We genuinely believe that soy is a healthy
product for all ages,” says Radi. “And for every stage of life,
there are different nutritional demands as well as taste
Another specialized product is Abbott Lab’s Mom
Shakes from Ross Products Division. The product line, which also includes
snack bars, is intended for the “unique needs of pregnant women and
nursing moms.” They include 24 vitamins and minerals, 10 grams of
protein and 3 grams of fat.
“The Ensure team recently identified a need for
pregnant and lactating moms: only 40 percent of women ages 18 to 45 (during
their childbearing ages) report taking a multivitamin daily,” says
Deea Angus, product manager at Ross Products Division.
But one thing has become crystal clear, no matter how
old a consumer is, or how specific their needs, they don’t want to be
reminded of their ailments. “The big lesson of the last decade is
that consumers will accept disease–related messages from dietary
supplements and medicines, but from foods, all but a niche of people are
looking for wellness,” says Mellentin’s 10 Key Trends report.
No matter which new fad diet or magic cure is around
the corner, the search for wellness is likely to be around for some time.
And if beverage companies play it right, there will be plenty of
opportunities that come along with it. “The more we learn about how
things affect our bodies, the more ideas and possibilities are created, the
more it will change,” says Cadbury’s Gier. “I suppose if
you’re trying to protect what you’ve got, it’s not a good
thing. But if you’re trying to serve consumers’
needs and willing to innovate to help them, the industry’s got a
pretty good track record.” BI