Health claims evolve for each consumer niche

Beverages continue to be a popular vehicle for adding nutritional value. Compared to many retail food products, beverages have been packaged for single-serve portability for a long time. This allows for easier product customization to reach many consumer niches via vending and convenience channels and also through unique packaging and product positioning.
What new product claims are emerging in beverage formats that may eventually find their way into mainstream channels? Most are influenced by the consumer niche manufacturers want to reach and ingredients available for delivering desired benefits. Many mainstream carbonated drinks positioned for fun and refreshment are losing ground to alternative beverages with more nutritional benefits. "Soda alternatives" have emerged with key nutrients such as calcium and other minerals, and specialized ingredients such as plant sterols for heart disease and proteins such as soy and whey.
Mintel International Group Ltd., Chicago, reports that the functional beverage category experienced 7 percent growth yearly for at least the past five years and is projected to grow another 44 percent by 2008. The more popular products continue to include those with established claims of "all natural", "organic", "added/high fiber" and "added/high calcium".
Many new beverage products seek to add more nutritional value, and are using dairy ingredients to deliver it. Companies such as Mac Farms, Burlington Mass., whose motto is to "unleash the power of milk", has carbonated and fortified this very traditional beverage, in collaboration with Praxair and Cornell University. Mac Farms claims its patent-protected products are healthy alternatives to soda and sports beverages, and provides supporting nutrition information on package labels. It's e-Moo for children under 12 launched in 2001 and now has achieved USDA approval for school foodservice. For a slightly older demographic, RPM (Refreshing Power Milk) boasts only 100 calories per 12-ounce serving with more calcium, magnesium and potassium per bottle than a standard glass of skim milk. Yet to come is Perq, a milk beverage targeted toward women, particularly those of childbearing age. It is made with fat-free milk, enhanced with folic acid, extra calcium and magnesium and a "dash of lactase", the enzyme that helps break down lactose. Other Perq products being considered are milk-based beverages for older adults to accommodate their special nutritional needs.
While some products are adding nutritional benefits, others claim something quite different based on what is not present, targeting an altogether different, but sizable, consumer segment that is probably too big to call a "niche". The more exotic nutritional attributes consumers associate with teas might be a driver to buy green tea-based drinks, some of which are targeted to consumers interested in organic products. The Healthy Beverage Co. claims to have the first certified-organic carbonated tea, made in its own certified microbrewery using organic teas and sweeteners such as cane juice and stevia. The company claims its Steaz Sparkling Green Teas are 100-percent natural and contain no preservatives, chemicals or corn syrup.
Although scientific research can't find anything wrong with coffee, and investigators are starting to explore potential health benefits, some consumers seek alternatives to coffee for a variety of reasons. Roasted soybeans are used either alone or blended with organic Mexican coffee in organic-certified Rocomojo Coffee Alternative beverages, targeted to adults seeking a low- or non-caffeinated, low-acid brew. Unlike regular coffee, this beverage offers nutritional value from soy protein, fiber, calcium, iron, riboflavin and niacin.
Soy-based cocoa mixes from Country Choice Naturals claim freedom from wheat, gluten, milk, egg and nuts for consumers concerned about these potential allergens. In addition, the products are certified organic and kosher. These "quiet" claims may bode well for the product's future if taste expectations are met. Many public school systems are striving to become "allergen-free" both in the cafeteria and in classrooms where food is brought from home. Alternative products claiming to be free of common allergenic ingredients might just build their growth on these benefits.
Only our imaginations limit beverage concepts that address consumer interests in alternatives to traditional, mainstream products because the reasons alternatives are sought vary widely among different consumer groups. No ingredient is yet available that brings eternal youth in all its forms. However, it may not be needed with the growing list of ingredients that can help consumers address their unique health concerns with chronic diseases that matter to them. These ingredients include plant sterols for heart disease, and calcium, magnesium and vitamin K for bone health, and now, carbohydrate- and/or calorie-control components for obesity.
Marketers need to be aware that food regulations can be a slippery slope to navigate when health-related claims become part of a unique selling proposition and a creative component of advertising and labeling. Traditional health claims (now called "non-qualified" health claims) have existed for a number of years and now total 14, each with special product composition requirements and guidelines. More recently, the FDA has attempted to liberalize the health-related claims that manufacturers of dietary supplements and some foods can make by suggesting the use of "qualified health claims" for diet/disease relationships that do not meet the same high scientific standard, called "significant scientific agreement", as is required for the 14 non-qualified health claims.
Qualified health claims are intended for use when there is emerging evidence linking a food or food component with a disease or health-related condition, and specific language must be used to tell consumers that the data supporting the claims is limited. Guidelines are available for this new FDA initiative, and some claims may be more easily applied to beverage products than others. A regulatory specialist can advise you how to make the most compelling marketing claims while still conforming to regulations.
Stay tuned to see how "alternative" products and their claims evolve. Now that many major bottlers have sophisticated computerized category management systems in place, beverage marketers can geographically identify customer preferences by analyzing data at store level. As alternative beverages evolve to a larger category, the systems are in place to make sure those who want them can easily get them. The age of beverage product customization for growing niche markets is well underway. BI
Currently approved non-qualified health claims
These 14 health claims can be used when certain product requirements and claim language requirements are met.
Approved Non-Qualified Health Claim: Food or beverage composition must meet regulatory standards for:
Calcium and osteoporosis High calcium content; calcium source used must be bio-available; phosphorus content may not exceed calcium content
Sodium and hypertension A low-sodium food
Dietary fat and cancer A low-fat food
Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol and risk of heart disease Low total fat, low saturated fat and low cholesterol content
Fiber-containing grain products, fruits, vegetables and cancer A good source of dietary fiber without fiber fortification; low total fat
Soluble fiber-containing grain products, fruits and
vegetables, and risk of coronary heart disease
Low total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol; at least 0.6 grams of soluble fiber per RACC* without fiber fortification
Fruits, vegetables and cancer A fruit or vegetable; low total fat; and a "good source" of Vitamin C, Vitamin A or fiber, without using fortification
Folic acid and neural tube defects At least 40 mcg. of folate per serving; folic acid must be naturally occurring (not fortified); foods that do not exceed 100% of the RDI for Vitamin A (as retinol) or pre-formed Vitamin D
Dietary sugar alcohols and dental caries Sugar-free; specific sugar alcohols allowed; if fermentable carbohydrate is present, the beverage must not lower plaque pH below 5.7
Soluble fiber from certain foods and coronary heart
disease risk
Low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; fiber source must be those eligible derived from oats or psyllium with meeting specified amounts per serving; ingredients used must meet specified standards
Soy protein and risk of coronary heart disease Minimum 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving; low in saturated fat and cholesterol
Plant sterol/stanol esters and risk of coronary heart disease Specified amounts per serving in certain food types; low in
saturated fat and cholesterol
Whole grain foods and risk of heart disease and certain cancers 51 percent whole grain composition by weight; specific standards for dietary fiber content; low fat
Potassium and the risk of high blood pressure and stroke "Good source" of potassium, and low in sodium, total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol

Qualified health claim areas
currently authorized by the FDA
Qualified claims about cancer risk Selenium & cancer Antioxidant vitamins & cancer
Qualified claims about cardiovascular disease risk Nuts & heart disease Walnuts & heart disease Omega-3 fatty acids &coronary heart disease B Vitamins & vascular disease
Qualified claims about cognitive function Phosphatidylserine & cognitive dysfunction and dementia
Qualified claims about neural tube birth defects 0.8 mg. folic acid & neural tube birth defects