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Released: May 16, 2002

Also see: Summer 2002 Food Safety news package

Summer Food Safety: Industry Moves Toward Functional Foods

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Shifts in the food industry appear long before consumers see new products in their local grocery stores.

"There’s a lot we don’t immediately see here in the Midwest, since it could potentially take years for the coastal markets to work this way," said Karen Blakeslee, Rapid Response Center coordinator with Kansas State University Research and Extension. "Hundreds of new foods are introduced each year. Only a fraction of these foods are successful."

Functional Foods - This category, also called ‘do-it-yourself foods,’ focuses on foods with added functional ingredients to improve health before seeing a doctor. Target markets include people wishing to reduce the risk of heart disease, increase the ability to fight cancer, control weight problems or reduce stress.

"People are not satisfied to follow the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] food pyramid, so they look for ways to eat better," Blakeslee said. "Prior to seeing a doctor, 80 percent of patients have already done a self-diagnosis."

In 2001, Food Technology magazine reported that functional foods netted nearly $50 billion worldwide, compared to $30 billion in 1995. Consumers ranked "good source of calcium" as the top marketing claim in a 2001 HealthFocus survey.

"Last year, the use of functional foods topped dietary supplements," Blakeslee said. "More research is being conducted into ways to add ingredients to make foods even healthier.

Food marketers are specifically targeting consumers such as health-conscious women, obese children, and people over age 50. There’s also a trend toward marketing athletic food and beverage products toward the average consumer.

Soy and whey products have gained recent attention. In 2001, more than 1,200 new grain-based products were introduced. Baking products topped the list with more than 400 additions.

Breakfast cereals have incorporated higher soy products for nutritional values. Whey proteins have begun to make headlines for building the immune system, controlling blood pressure and absorbing iron and certain minerals.

Enhanced Lifestyle - A number of products, such as beverages, caffeinated merchandise and high-protein foods, have been geared toward lowering stress. Coupled with a higher emphasis on exercise, Blakeslee said many Americans seek foods to meet the demands of their busy lives.

"Look for energy drinks and smoothies," Blakeslee said. "These beverages are targeted to specific genders, ages and even the time of day to consume the product."

The gum and candy market also has been developing products with added components to enhance mental capacities and reduce stress.

Youth Focus - Kids are also feeling the push to eat healthier. With nearly 25 percent of American youth overweight, the food industry is looking to develop solutions, Blakeslee said.

"To help these kids, a ‘youth market’ of functional foods will improve eating habits with extra nutrition," Blakeslee said. "Adults can teach by example to show children how to eat healthier and by exercising."

A push from fruit juices, dairy products and breakfast cereals have attempted to combat the concerns of fats, sugars and artificial sweeteners.

Tactful Trends - Blakeslee predicted other possible trends:

* Omega-3 fatty acids in breads, cereals and juices to lower the risk of heart disease

* Fortified bottled water with new flavors

* Ice cream and yogurt products moving to "super-premium" rather than lite varieties

* Complete meals to be consumed "on-the-go" and in easy-to-use packaging


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Lucas Shivers, Communications Assistant
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673