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 opposite.”
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 Lipitor.”
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 nutrition.
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 healthy appeal.
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 Raftilose inulin.
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 diet.”
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 preferences.”
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