Consumers who start their day with a cup of coffee, cocoa or tea are all tapping into the natural health power of polyphenols. These natural compounds are found in a wide variety of plants and have myriad health benefits, from helping control inflammation to reducing free radical damage in the body. Found throughout the plant kingdom from onions and apples to grapes, blueberries and nuts, it is still uncertain how much polyphenol content the average American is consuming, in large part because there is still no complete database for these compounds.
From the 5-a-Day produce campaign to more recent labeling tactics touting polyphenol content on dark chocolate bars or green tea bags, there is growing general awareness about healthy natural compounds in plants. “Sources, such as berries, fruits and teas, are foods consumers are familiar with already and likely consume,” said Matt Phillips, president and COO, Cyvex Nutrition. “We think consumers understand polyphenols are good for you, just not necessarily how they are consuming them. The increasing popularity of green tea and the science related to its consumption continue to present opportunities for consumers to learn about polyphenols.”
Added Nathalie Richer, product manager, Diana Naturals, “Consumers are now aware of the link between a healthy diet and their health and well-being. Antioxidants are a well-known category of nutrients, due to the large functional food offerings and strong industry communications on their anti-aging effect, but the exact molecule name is still mainly part of the scientific field. However, the polyphenol term is more and more understood, as it is the most often-used range of antioxidant ingredients. Nutritional information on food packaging also helps consumers to identify coffee, tea, soy and other plants as good sources of polyphenols.”
However, there remains a long way to go. “Consumers know what antioxidants are, and have a good idea that they come from fruits and vegetables, but the average consumer does not know what a polyphenol is or where they can be found,” said Colleen Zammer, director of sales, FutureCeuticals.
Christian Artaria, marketing director, Indena S.p.A., agreed that consumers are more aware of the importance of a healthy diet in delivering nutritional compounds. “Consumers know very well the healthy properties of fruits and vegetables and their role in reducing the risk of certain diseases,” he said. “Consumers are also aware of the basic concepts related to food, such as the fact that the beneficial properties of olive oil and wine are linked to certain compounds, which are able to provide specific health benefits they may be seeking. What consumers probably have little awareness of is that the good properties associated with this specific diet are due to the presence of polyphenols.”
This poses several challenges to the marketers of products—whether dietary supplements or functional foods and beverages—enhanced with polyphenols for their health-enhancing properties. “The task for the health ingredient industry is to educate consumers a bit more about what polyphenols are and break it down some to a level of understanding without overload,” said Leslie Gallo, director of marketing and operations, Artemis International. “I don’t think we will ever get across that quercetin is a flavonol and proanthocyanidins are catechins, which are flavonoids, which are all polyphenols and so on.”