Functional foods, or nutritionals, have been a steadily rising market in the food industry over the past few years as the availability of such products rockets. As consumer consciousness regarding health and nutrition increases, and chefs campaign for an end to unnecessary additives and call for more transparency about what exactly is in our food, manufacturers are finding new ways to blend the concepts of health, flavours and changing consumer trends.

With quick and simple healthy food at the forefront of current trends, companies are experimenting with functional ingredients that claim to offer nutritional benefits that provide convenience to the consumer, as well as added health benefits.

Expanding into new markets: health and beauty

As the trend for functional foods has developed, new niche markets have appeared that are targeting more specific areas such as beauty. One ingredient that has soared in popularity is the use of collagen, which has been used in both food and beverage offerings.

Commonly used in the beauty supplement market, collagen supplements appear in a variety of forms, from pills to vials of liquid. For example, leading high street chain Boots sells a liquid food supplement called Pure Gold Collagen – a beauty supplement designed for women based on a formula specifically developed to offer a unique combination of collagen and supplements for good absorption and bioavailability. Consumers are advised to drink one bottle per day to see the effects. The active ingredients – which include hydrolysed collagen, hyaluronic acid, borage oil, vitamins and minerals – are said to contribute to the maintenance of normal skin, hair and nails, pigmentation and connective tissues.

Value added food: filling the gap as consumer behaviours change

While it is widely understood that functional food cannot replace a balanced diet, there is a strong argument that value added food fills a gap in our eating habits left by the change in lifestyle. Other functional food categories such as probiotics which are defined as live microorganisms – mostly bacteria – which when taken in adequate amounts confer a health benefit, and prebiotics – which are said to promote the growth of particular bacteria in the large intestine that are beneficial to intestinal health and also inhibit the growth of bacteria that are potentially harmful to intestinal health, are taking off.

Items such as Activia and Actimel are commonplace on supermarket shelves and demonstrate the popularity of such products amongst consumers. The myriad of diets that have arisen in recent years have opened a gap in the market for supplements in food and, as consumers move away from the sit-down family meal and towards easily prepared on-the-go foods, the products that satisfied consumers decades ago are no longer satisfying consumers today.

However, while there are a number of tested functional food products and supplements on the market, professionals agree that they do not replace a balanced diet. They are not without benefit however, as it has been acknowledge that such products can assist individuals that are deficient in certain vitamins.

“As we get older, our ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. Also, our energy needs aren’t the same, and we tend to eat less” said Dr. Howard Sesso, an epidemiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “[Supplements are] a touchy subject and you need to look at your individual needs first.”