Euromonitor Internationals latest packaged food data reveal the meal replacement slimming category, despite struggling to make gains in several saturated markets, is performing admirably at a global level. The category achieved its strongest growth performance in 2011 compared to any other year during the 2006 to 2011 review period. Worldwide value sales rose by 9 percent in 2011, narrowly missing the U.S.$6 billion mark, and leaving the dip in sales the category suffered in 2009 well behind.
The United States is by far the biggest market for meal replacement slimming products, with 2011 value sales accounting for 37 percent of the global total. Because it is such a mature market, 2006 to 2011 saw little growth, but some dramatic shifts were observed with regard to U.S. consumers format preferences.
In 2006 nearly 95 percent of meal replacement slimming products in the United States were sold as bars or ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage; however, in 2011 this figure plummeted to around 65 percent. Powder concentrates, on the other hand, grew rapidly and now account for the remaining share of value sales. Powder concentrates are often drastically cheaper per serving, are easier to store and transport, and allow for more versatile consumption, e.g., they can be added to smoothies.
Meal replacement slimming products also face significant challenges from other categories. For instance, energy and nutrition bars, which recorded a strong 13-percent value sales increase in 2011 in the United States, are drawing consumers attention away from established slimming-positioned brands, such as Amways Nutrilite and Unilevers Slim Fast.
U.S. consumers are switching from traditional slimming powder concentrates to sports nutrition-positioned protein shakes. During the past decade, protein shakes have expanded beyond their former bodybuilding niche into the mass market. Ever since the Atkins diet craze broke in the 1990s, high-protein foods (more so than low-carb items) have gained the reputation of inducing satiety and, therefore, promoting weight loss.
From a global perspective, weight management slimming products potential is by no means exhausted. Plenty of markets proved the categorys growth trajectory was exceptionally dynamic from 2006 to 2011, and established where strong growth is set to continue. India delivered the most dynamic performance during 2006 to 2011, with an incredible 648-percent value sales increase, albeit from a low base. Venezuela, China and Malaysia recorded a five-fold increase, while in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Russia, sales more than doubled.
There are also numerous markets where meal replacement slimming products are either entirely absent or so marginal that they do not yet register as noteworthy sales statistics within packaged food, as for example in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Egypt. These markets are not exactly unaffected by obesity. Younger consumers in particular have a growing desire to be slim, and so they will be looking for novel solutions in order to achieve their weight loss goals, paving the way for the categorys entry into new markets in the foreseeable future.
In geographies where meal replacement slimming products are already well-established, such as the United States, Japan and Germany, and where consumers are tempted to switch to other categories, such as energy and nutrition bars, stimulating category growth is a much tougher challenge for manufacturers. In order to claw back consumer interest, the focus must be on innovation.
In December 2011, Danish biotech company S-Biotek, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagens Faculty of Life Sciences, reported on a new discovery that could soon be a fashionable new functional ingredient in meal replacement slimming productsdietary fiber derived from brown algae, also referred to as alginates. The researchers spent three years investigating the effects of this ingredient, concluding that study subjects who had received a drink containing alginates showed significantly greater weight loss success than their counterparts who had consumed a placebo beverage devoid of the ingredient. According to the researchers, products containing alginates made from brown algae have not entered the market so far. Developments such as these are highly promising, not least because they tap into the growing demand for "natural" products and ingredients.
The Rise of "Natural" Mid-Calorie Juices
The discovery of stevia-based sweeteners as a natural alternative to the widely usedand much malignedhigh-intensity sweeteners, including aspartame, acesulfame K and cyclamate, is currently revolutionizing the entire beverage industry. It is juices, however, where stevia is having one of the most profound impacts by effectively creating a new subcategory, namely that of natural" mid-calorie nectars, or, to use an alternative term, naturally healthy better-for-you (BFY) nectars. Nectars have a juice content of between 25 and 99 percent.
The naturally healthy aspect of juice has always been a major point of attraction, especially for 100-percent juice, but its high-calorie contentdue to naturally occurring fruit sugarhas made weight-conscious consumers wary of the category. Before stevia, products with less than 100-percent juice either contained added sugar or artificial sweeteners, which was in direct conflict with juices natural image. The magic of stevia now allows manufacturers to reduce the juice content without sacrificing either sweetness or naturalness, while cutting the products calorie content in half.
PepsiCo, for one, has struck gold with this approach. Its Tropicana Trop50 brand, a 50-50 blend of juice and water sweetened with stevia, has been extremely successful in the United States since its launch in 2009. In 2011, Trop50 value sales soared by 50 percent, claiming an 11-percent share of off-trade volumes in the nectars (25- to 99-percent juice) category that year and U.S.$160 million in retail sales. In May 2012, PepsiCo introduced its latest round of flavor and brand extensions, including a Red Orange variety and an entirely new line combining juice and tea.
Clearly, reduced-calorie, all-natural fruit juice was long awaited by consumers, and exciting alternatives to stevia are already on the horizon. Monk fruit extract, for example, by virtue of being derived from fruit, has enormous potential. At present, its penetration in mass-market soft drinks is still hampered by its relatively high price, compounded by a supply bottleneck. In addition, it is still waiting for legal approval in some geographies, such as the EU.
Another exciting innovation currently attempting to surmount the EU novel foods approval hurdle comes from Israeli beverage company Gan Shmuel Corp, which has found a way of creating lower-in-sugar juices that are undiluted and contain no added ingredients. To achieve this impressive feat, the company developed a process that converts part of the naturally occurring fruit sugar into fiber, resulting in a juice with 25 to 30 percent less sugar, equating to a 15-percent calorie reduction. The end product also contains eight times more fiber than standard 100-percent juice, potentially serving to further heighten its appeal as a weight management product.
As diverse as weight management products may already be, they still have to constantly respond to changing consumer demand by means of innovation, even to the point of giving birth to entire new subcategories, as in the case of natural mid-calorie juices.
Ewa Hudson manages the research program for the global health and wellness industry at Euromonitor International, which she joined in March 2003. She is also responsible for working with the international client base of Euromonitors online health and wellness foods and beverages passport.
Find more on weight management including market data, ingredients and product formulation challenges in INSIDER's Content Library.