Navigating the Future of Functional Foods

In recent years, improving and protecting one’s health has gone from a New Year’s resolution to a year-round endeavor for many consumers.

Though exercise and a higher level of physical fitness remain important aspects of a healthier lifestyle, according to Innova Market Insights, three in five consumers surveyed globally say that healthier living also means following a healthier and more nutritious diet.

In the US alone, 27% of consumers are actively choosing positive nutrition to boost their health. In addition to eating more nutritious whole foods, “healthy” or “healthier better for you and functional food and beverage products are catching the attention of shoppers worldwide.

As both options continue to gain more traction in the marketplace, taking full advantage of these opportunities requires not only creating winning products but also clarifying the landscape. 

This is where having the right partners can help brands navigate the challenges these categories and ingredients present so they can develop innovative solutions consumers can literally feel good about.

light dairy

Clearing Up Confusion – Better for You vs Functional Foods

Terms like “better for you” or “functional foods” may seem similar or interchangeable to an average person. However, understanding their nuances can prove critical for development and collaboration.

Moreover, with 61% of global consumers agreeing that products with health claims or labels significantly influence their purchasing decisions, clearing up any confusion from the start should be a top priority.

Better for You

skim milk

Out of the two, “better for you” is broader and often harder to define clearly. Naturally, there is a comparison inherent in the word better. You have a standard food item and an alternative “better” option. 

Generally, the term invokes a “healthier” connotation, with many consumers developing more specific associations such as low in sugar/saturated fat/sodium, reduced calories, and more natural or less processed ingredients. 

This category can also include products fortified with nutrition-boosting ingredients such as vitamins and minerals, making them “better for you” versus a standard product. 

On the other hand, while “functional” products also use fortifications and added ingredients, this second category isn’t focused on comparison.

Functional Foods

Pinning down an exact definition for functional foods can be tricky, but I think this one from the NIH (National Institute of Health), though quite technical, hits the nail on the head:

“Functional foods are novel foods that have been formulated so that they contain substances or live microorganisms that have a possible health-enhancing or disease-preventing value and at a concentration that is both safe and sufficiently high to achieve the intended benefit. The added ingredients may include nutrients, dietary fiber, phytochemicals, other substances, or probiotics.

In other words, these products contain functional ingredients that can provide specific and targeted physiological benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Immunity Boosting
  • Increased Energy/Focus
  • Gut/Heart/Brain Health
  • Relaxation/Mood Boosting
  • Improved Sleep
functional food

With 29% of people in the US now choosing foods that support specific body functions, products featuring targeted functional ingredients are poised for a rapid rise in popularity and market presence.

Overcoming Challenges to Create Opportunities 

Generating success, especially sustained success, with functional ingredients can ultimately come down to delivering on two crucial points for consumers:

Does this product deliver the benefits it claims?

40% of American consumers only trust functional foods with scientifically proven efficacy

Also, your ingredient might meet that standard, but does it produce those same results in your product?

Everything from the level of the functional ingredient(s) in your base, the processing methods (commercial and end-user), and the presence of other ingredients can either promote or inhibit bioavailability. 

Is the taste good enough to buy this again?

Most of these ingredients, from vitamins and proteins to adaptogens, nootropics, and beyond, usually come with distinct taste challenges.

functional ingredients

While “tasty = unhealthy” is a bias many people hold, shifting that paradigm is vital to making functional foods a preferred choice, rather than a chore, for these consumers.

This is where having co-development partners like Edlong could be a game changer. 

Everything Functional Can Be – How Edlong Can Help

Although many of the functional food and beverage products flooding the market may be novel, the taste challenges holding them back are not.

From the bitterness of caffeine to the earthy and dirt-like off-tastes of certain adaptogens, our experience equips us with the knowledge necessary to handle even the most complex technical issues.

For example, since the 1990s, Edlong has been a pioneer in the plant-based dairy space. 

Today, we continue to push the boundaries of everything plant-based dairy can be.

almond milk

Like these trending functional ingredients, plant-based components can create a range of taste and texture hurdles, keeping developers from achieving a delicious product. 

In addition to providing the most authentic dairy profiles on the market, our flavors have achieved impressive performance in masking off-notes and improving mouthfeel, particularly with plant proteins.

Developing great-tasting products requires a holistic approach, which is what makes us so much more than just a flavor house. By focusing on collaboration from the beginning, we help you make sure your formulation hits the mark on taste while also checking every other box.

What does this look like in practice?

A couple of our recent demos from the LATAM Food Tech Summit and Food Ingredients Europe are perfect illustrations.

Vanilla Oat Creamer

vanilla iced latte

In this demo, our flavors overcame several challenges, including: 

  • Masking off-notes
  • Heat & pH stability
  • Improving Mouthfeel
  • Vegan

The result was a silky smooth, rich, and sweet vanilla creamer that delicately balanced the acidity of the cold brew coffee, wowing anyone who tried it.

Almond Protein Drink

For this example, on top of providing a creamy, balanced, milky profile, our flavors were tasked with masking the distracting off-notes and aftertastes of the vegetable fat, almond paste, and pea proteins.

In the end, eventgoers were treated to a plant-based beverage with a creamy and delicious dairy profile, as well as nutritional characteristics and functionality similar to whole milk.

almond protein milk

Let’s Collaborate

By leveraging experiences like this, along with over a century of industry-leading know-how and on-going investment in R&D, Edlong is uniquely suited to help you take advantage of the growing functional foods market.

Known or unknown, we’re ready to help you take on any technical flavor challenge that comes your way to ensure your functional ingredients can shine.

About the Author: Dr. Bernd Koehler, Global VP of R&D

Bernd has more than 20 years of international leadership experience in the food and analytical services industries, including Mars-Wrigley and McCain Foods. He is known for his ability to align technical capabilities with business needs using scientific methods, data, and creativity. He also has a passion for blending people and technical expertise to fuel growth and profitability. Bernd received his Dr. rer. nat. degree in Food Chemistry from the Bavarian Julius-Maximilians-University in Wuerzburg, Germany.


Topics: Better For YouFunctional FoodsInnovation
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: EULATAMUS

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