The Functional market is growing from a niche to mainstream player, worth close to £667m in 2002. Health has been the driving force behind this growth and Philip Fass and Dr Michelle Jones look at the burgeoning role of soya and Vitamin E in this development.

Today's consumers are increasingly health-conscious and concerned about a number of health-related issues from heart health to fat intake. Consequently, some individuals are seeking to maintain health and well-being by dietary means and in order to do this will include nutritional substances such as antioxidants, calcium, prebiotics or soya products through food fortification or supplementation. This demand has led to the well-publicised development of the functional foods market worldwide - estimated value £667m in 2002. (Mintel) Functional beverages are a growing sector for multinationals and smaller manufacturers alike, with all players in the product supply chain keen to capitalise on their increasing popularity.

An important consideration for R & D in this sector is the development of functional beverages with associated health benefits. Functional ingredients may be linked to one or more health benefits, and providing clear explanations to consumers can present particular challenges. However, the widespread appeal of functional beverages is more achievable if the focus is placed on positioning products as a component of a healthy, active lifestyle with the emphasis on key attributes of product quality and refreshment, rather than the so-called 'death marketing' approach.

Versatile ingredients are now available, offering manufacturers significant opportunities for product innovation. Two examples of products increasingly used in the functional beverage sector are soya protein isolates and natural-source vitamin E, which combine technological innovation with health-enhancing properties. Here, we review these ingredients and the emerging market opportunities.

Soya - changing perceptions
Soya is a rich source of protein and oil, and the many derivatives of these components are used in a vast range of human foods, animal feeds and industrial applications. A staple of the Asian diet for centuries, the leguminous soya bean was introduced into the Western diet in the early 1920s, when farmers realised its enormous potential and began to grow it in commercial quantities.

Although traditionally the domain of vegetarians, allergy sufferers and those with lactose intolerance, the perception - and most importantly the consumption - of soya-based products is now changing. Barriers that prevented soya-based products from becoming mainstream - limited retail availability, poor taste and consumers' lack of awareness of the health benefits - are gradually being broken down. Manufacturers and consumers are now more aware of the properties of soya, which make it a versatile and healthy food ingredient. Today's soya-based ingredients have been improved by the development of new techniques to remove or mask some of the bitter flavours and to create better textures.

Awareness of the health benefits of soya protein has been increased by the approval of generic health claims by both the US Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) in 1999 and the UK Joint Health Claims Initiative ( JHCI, a joint venture between consumer bodies, enforcement authorities and industry trade associations) in 2002. Both health claims have the wording "25g of soy(a) protein per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." Products carrying the claim must contain a minimum of 6.25g soya protein per serving. Furthermore, consumers are now more knowledgeable about soya-related health benefits.

Soya-enriched beverages
Although the soya beverages market is still perceived as niche, it is rapidly moving into the mainstream. Soya milk and non-dairy versions of beverages such as milk shakes, protein drinks and yogurt smoothies are growing in popularity with products appearing on supermarket shelves across the world - from So Fresh in Egypt and Vitamilk J-SoyMilk in Thailand to Haldane Foods' Soya in the UK. Many of these are not simply positioned as alternatives to dairy products but as an additional beverage option with a sensory and taste experience in their own right. Organic Monitor valued the European market for non-dairy drinks at £49.5m in 2002, with market growth rates above 30%.

Demand for soya-based beverages providing both refreshment and a healthy lifestyle option has led to the development of a new generation of innovative soya ingredients. Whereas traditional soya isolates can have flavour and dispersion issues in certain applications, new agglomerated soya isolates (highly digestible sources of amino acids) offer improved functionality and nutritional profile. Agglomerated soya isolates contain more than 90% protein, enabling the development of products to meet the FDA and JHCI health claims. Furthermore, their gelation, emulsification and viscosity-building properties are particularly useful in the creation of high protein dairy-like products having a blander flavour. With such high performance ingredients available, we can expect to see further examples of product innovation in this sector with, for example, fresh single portion soya-based beverages which appeal to younger consumers who favour 'on the move' convenience.

Vitamin enrichment
Another key trend in functional beverages is vitamin enrichment. Vitamin-enriched 'designer waters', juices, sports and energy drinks have increased in popularity as consumers have become more aware of the role of vitamins in long-term health maintenance. The UK functional drinks market now exceeds £250m a year, and functional energy drinks are the strongest category, more than doubling in volume and value since 1999 (Zenith) .

The bottled water sector also offers opportunities for vitamin enrichment, with consumer demand driven by both awareness of the importance of proper hydration and concern over obesity and dental health, particularly in children.

Bottled water is increasingly accessible in everyday life, with over 700m bottles sold in pack sizes designed for consumption on the move and more than 1500m cups filled from water coolers in offices, shops and reception areas. Indeed, in the UK, bottled water sales rose 11% in 2002 to 1770m litres and £1,000m in retail value (Zenith).

Natural-source vitamin E
Clearly, the addition of vitamins or other beneficial bioactive nutrients offers valuable opportunities in the development of innovative functional foods and beverages. Natural-source vitamin E is well suited to healthy functional beverage applications.

Ongoing scientific investigations indicate that vitamin E may be associated with a number of health benefits, including heart health maintenance and combating the effects of free radicals which are implicated in degenerative processes.

Vitamin E is one of the fat-soluble vitamins and, as such, is insoluble in water. But now, a form of natural-source vitamin E is available, suitable for incorporation into clear waters, fruit and vegetable juices, juice concentrates, and nutritional or sports beverages, with little or no change to existing formulations. Archer Daniels Midland Company's natural-source vitamin Clear E 230T disperses rapidly in water with minimal mixing. In this unique formulation, tiny micelles of vitamin E called nanoparticles are produced; these particles are so small that they do not reflect light waves, which means that solutions are seen to be 'clear'. This makes 230 Clear ideal for use in applications where water-clear transparency is regarded as essential.

Clearly, the use of innovative, high quality ingredients is crucial to the development of functional beverages, enabling the creation of products which are not only associated with health and well-being but also address the primary function of a beverage: refreshment and enjoyment. The added value offered by innovative ingredients, combined with good drinking quality, are the factors which can help to ensure success in a very competitive marketplace.

Vitamin Clear E 230TM is a Trade Mark of Archer Daniels Midland Company, one of the world's largest processors of soya beans, corn, wheat and cocoa. ADM is also a leader in soya meal, oils and flour and is building a position in such value-added products as specialty food ingredients, bioproducts and nutraceuticals (such as vitamin E and phytosterols).

For further information on soya protein isolates, contact:
ADM Specialty Ingredients,
Tel: +31 (0)75 64 64 646
E-mail: FoodIngredients@admworld.com

For further information on soya isoflavones, contact:
ADM Natural Health & Nutrition,
Tel: +44 (0)1322 443008
E-mail: IngredientsErith@admworld.com

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