CHICAGO—A heightened interest in natural products and an emphasis on protein make up a couple of the major trends impacting how consumers today shop and purchase their food products. New insights from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), gathered from a variety of industry sources, reveal a total of 10 functional food trends that will likely shape the industry in the coming year.
1. Specialty nutritionals
Many consumers who once relied on nutritional supplements have made the switch to fortified and functional foods instead. Nearly 9 in 10 adults made a strong effort to consume more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals and fish/oil/omega-3s in their diets. Maintaining a healthy digestive system and immune health also are top health priorities, and probiotics will play a key role in 2014.
2. Clean label foods
Consumers' interest in "real" ingredients they can recognize is also driving the industry and leading to a demand for simple, natural foods. More than half of consumers look for foods absent of artificial ingredients, while one in four adults buy organic foods/beverages. The majority of consumers strongly agree with the idea of getting their nutrition from foods with naturally occurring health benefits.
3. Hispanics and health
Another trend involves America’s 52 million Hispanics who offer a huge market potential with a buying power of more than $1 trillion. U.S. Hispanics spent an estimated $6.9 billion on functional foods in 2012 and $9.4 billion on natural/organic foods/drinks . Hispanics are also the number one users of energy drinks/shots, sports beverages and 100% juice/juice drinks. In addition, this demographic is about twice as likely as the general population to spend whatever it takes to look younger, and they are often the first to try a new health food, nutritional product or diet.
4. The power of protein
An emphasis on protein is another huge trend in today's food industry. The protein market is still center stage with 57% of consumers, especially between the ages of 18 and 34 and above age 65, seeking protein sources. These consumers are looking for more protein to maintain healthy bones/joints, strengthen immune systems, and build muscle strength and tone while maintaining energy throughout the day.
5. Kid-friendly foods
Almost half of America’s 32 million moms who say they always buy health foods and beverages for their kids are looking for a wider range of healthy, convenient, kid-friendly foods and drinks with nutrient and calorie levels specific to kids. Research shows 44% of children under age 12 consume organic foods/drinks at least once per week, and moms are less likely to seek out organic products as their children age.
6. Pharma foods
An estimated 8 in 10 believe functional foods can help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and Type 2 Diabetes, while 6 in 10 associate it with benefits linked to age-related memory loss, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, 56% of consumers bought foods or beverages that targeted a specific condition, and cholesterol-lowering foods and beverages were the most purchased condition-specific food or drink.
7. Vegetarian movement
Meals without meat is another growing trend in the United States: 80% of households now eat meatless meals for dinner on occasion. Eggs are the most popular alternative, followed by beans/lentils/legumes. Dairy-free milks including soy, rice and almond, ranked fifth, and coconut water ranked eighth among the popular nonalcoholic beverage trends in restaurants for 2014.
8. Sports nutrition
Foods for athletic performance enhancement are also trending as the explosive sports nutrition category targets both athletes and body builders, as well as recreational sports participants, casual athletes and gym exercisers. Nearly 6 in 10 adults used a sports nutrition product in 2012, and the combined consumer sales of sports nutrition supplements, nutrition bars, and energy drinks topped $24 billion in 2012, up 11.2%. A growing body of research also points to the value of dairy in sports nutrition, and these ingredients can help provide digestible, high-quality protein for building and repairing muscle, carbohydrates for energy, and vitamins and minerals to strengthen bones and replace electrolytes. Kids play a major role in the sports nutrition category, with almost 75% of kids between the ages of 6 and 11, and 71% of teens ages 12 to 17 using sports drinks. Some moms are also using sports nutrition powders for their children. Half of the users of protein drinks believe they help them perform better during exercise.
9. Managing weight
Weight loss is still a huge factor for consumers, but today, people looking to shed a few pounds have avoided the deprivation-style weight loss campaigns, and instead simply eat healthier while adding specific "real food" components and nutrients to their diets. Whole grains, fiber, and vitamin D topped the list of ingredients that two-thirds of those trying to manage their weight added to the diet, while others added more calcium, protein, antioxidants, or omega 3/fish oil. An estimated 60% of adults believe that protein works for weight loss, and one-third believe protein boosts metabolism and aids in fat burning.
10. The next generation
Lastly, Millennials' view of food choices has been another driving force in 2014. Millennials between the ages of 14 and 33 now view their food choices as healthier, more expensive, more natural/organic, less processed, better tasting and fresh. This demographic is also the most likely to believe that functional foods and beverages can be used in place of some medicines, to relieve tiredness and lack of energy, retain mental sharpness with aging, stress, and eye health. Millennials and Generation X read nutrition labels for calories, vitamins/minerals, serving size and protein. They also drink a wider range of beverages than other generations, including ready-to-drink coffees and sparkling drinks.
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