Fortification: One for the Ages

by By Dan Malovany
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At a time not long ago, fortifying the daily diet was as simple as taking a One a Day, the multivitamin for everyone and everyday occasions. For most Americans, popping a pill during breakfast meant forgetting about nutrition for the rest of the day. Age didn’t matter much back before the current area of custom-designed everything. There weren’t One a Day tablets for infants, toddlers, teens, single women, regnant moms, office athletes, middle-aged men or silver-haired folks. It didn’t even matter how active — or inactive — their lifestyles were. Bundling a proverbial cocktail of 20 or 30 minerals, vitamins and other nutrients into a tablet was an idea that worked at that time and seemed one for the ages.

However, in today’s one-size-fits-none society, allin-one products are considered anything but a solution for all. Even One a Day now comes in specific formulations for women, women 50-plus, women prenatal, women active lifestyle, menopause, men, teens and more. Additionally, building strong bodies only 12 ways doesn’t work during an era when every consumer appears to have more nutritional needs and suffers from dozens of more ailments than there are parts to their bodies. Instead of targeting everyone with a magic pill, the functional food and dietary supplement industries have been moving toward developing more specific products targeted at age-, gender-, activity- and condition-specific customer concerns, according to Sam Wright, president and c.e.o., The Wright Group, Crowley, LA.

Along with digestive, bone, joint, eye, gut, skin, respiratory and cognitive health, consumers are searching for more energy, endurance and, of course, weight management in a big way. In fact, 70% of Americans are concerned about their weight status, and 77% are trying to lose or maintain their weight, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2010 Food & Health Survey.

That’s why adding fiber to create functional foods has emerged as one of the established movements in the food industry, according to an April study by Mintel, the Chicago, IL-based research firm. In addition to serving as an appetite suppressant that creates a sense of fullness with fewer calories, fiber-enriched snacks and baked foods continue to be promoted to an aging population saddled with a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including constipation, gas and gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD). In fact, between 2010 and 2015, digestive issues will continue to fuel demand for such products, especially in Americans aged 55 to 74, Mintel reported.

Catering to the needs of the aging hasn’t gone unnoticed by the food and pharmaceutical industries. “The two most dominant condition-specific markets in 2010 are digestive health and immunity, which may be why related ingredients are deployed in product formulations,” Mr. Wright said. “Probiotics, prebiotics and various forms of dietary fiber have exploded in popularity in the past few years, driven by solid science and aggressive marketing efforts.”

In fact, almost any bakery or snack product that is currently low in fiber can benefit from fortification with dietary fiber, added Kelly Nehmer, research scientist, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, IL. Such fibers can promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut that use it to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed in the colon and can lead to better intestinal integrity, she said.

“In addition to benefits such as good digestive health, food manufacturers will be looking to fortify with dietary fibers that provide added health benefits such as weight management, satiety, blood glucose control and prebiotic effects,” Ms. Nehmer said.

Among all of the health claims being made for bakery foods, all-natural, whole grain, kosher and no additives top the list, according to William Vertolli, vice-president sales, bakery ingredients division, Watson, Inc., West Haven, CT. “At Watson, we are very aware of both customer and consumer demand for these as well as other long-term trends such as nutritional fortification,” he said. “As such, we remain strongly committed in our efforts to produce ingredients that satisfy these needs.”

SIMPLY BOOMING. The baby boomer generation, a monolithic demographic group that has been influencing how companies develop, promote and sell food products for nearly a half century, continues to “push the envelope” on fortification as a part of a broader wellness trend, noted Marge O’Brien, insight manager for Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, KS.

“People are searching for ways to enhance their health, and with that, the demand for fortification is increasing,” she said. “Looking across different categories, some emerging ingredients that offer caloric quality and nutritionally rich benefits include pomegranate, kiwi, honey and goji berry for skin health and beauty; pistachio and flaxseed for heart health; green tea and stevia for weight management; organic agave nectar for digestive health; and guarana for cognitive health.”

Specifically, the over-65 segment, or around 16% of the US population, also tends to be concerned with mental and visual acuity, as well as weight control and sustainable energy, Mr. Wright said. However, targeting many of these more novel health issues with a host of emerging nutrients not only provides a plethora of opportunity but also can pose a host of concerns on a regulatory front.

“In developing products for these specific populations, it is important to rely on the available science and the expertise of suppliers who have experience in working with this sometimes exotic group of nutrients,” Mr. Wright noted. “Unlike standard fortification, specific formulations use a wider array of ingredients besides vitamins and minerals. Actives like omega-3 fish oils, coenzyme Q-10, genistein, alpha lipoic acid, carotenoids, polyphenols, probiotics, prebiotics and various botanicals can pose serious stability, regulatory and organoleptic issues, which must be addressed before incorporating them into finished products.”

Americans also continue to live longer, creating another growing group that can best be described as “aging seniors,” or those people over 80 who have other specific concerns including bone health, sustainable energy and cardiovascular health, stated Rodger Jonas, director of national sales, P.L. Thomas, Morristown, NJ. “It’s no longer fair to just use the term ‘senior.’ When you get into your 80s, you’re an aging senior’ with more specific nutritional needs.”

If health and medical conditions permit, many of these aging seniors are redefining the more prosaic concepts of retirement, according to Sarah Lais, bakery market analyst, Danisco USA, Inc., New Century, KS. “These are more active seniors these days, and some of them are not retiring as early as they used to,” she said. “Most travel when possible and enjoy food and drink as much as their children.”

BEST DELIVERY VEHICLES. With companies targeting baby boomers and, in fact, people of all ages, it’s not surprising that the number of functional claims has increased during the past four years. US companies launched 770 foods and beverages with functional claims in 2009 and 785 in 2008, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database data provided by Ms. O’Brien.

Although the 2009 numbers for functional claims were slightly less than in 2008, product performance fared better than the overall rollout of new products, which tumbled 25 to 30% last year because of the recession that prompted reduction in R&D budgets as well as reluctance from retailers to allocate shelf space for innovative items. Conventional wisdom typically states that health-and-nutrition often performs well in any economy, but only if it remains a priority for shoppers. “The overarching theme is that consumers want wellness products, not just medicine,” Ms. O’Brien said. “Look for future innovation to come from bakery, cereals, confectionery and soft drinks categories.”

Bakery foods, Mr. Wright added, tend to have a natural inside track in the emerging fortification market because the products are familiar to consumers, shelf-evident at the store level and relatively fast moving in terms of sales. “Specialty breads, muffins and other breakfast items, nutrition bars and baked snacks are excellent carriers for nutritional ingredients,” he said. “Dry systems like these tend to be very practical for insoluable nutrients like minerals and some vitamins. As the role of fiber becomes more visible, the bakery arena will be the largest beneficiary.”

Breads and crackers also make the best carriers for fortification because they are inherently perceived as more healthful products, noted Brian Fatula, team leader, bakery /fats & oils at Danisco USA. “These products are consumed in large quantities and can reach the masses,” he said. “These products also are able to ‘hide’ the fortification tastes and flavors.”

Fortifying breakfast foods such as pancakes, muffins and nutrition bars remains popular because they can provide an immediate source of energy, serve as fillers between meals and are generally perceived as healthful vehicles for enhancing with fiber, protein or a full complement of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, magnesium and calcium phosphates, noted Barbara Heidolph, technical service principal — food ingredients, ICL Performance Products, St. Louis, MO.

From a functional standpoint, most bakery and snack products can be used to successfully carry mineral fortification, said Nadeen Myers, food phosphate specialist at ICL Performance Products. “Formulators may prefer a liquid source because the targeted minerals are usually soluble and can immediately go into the bloodstream,” she said. “However, solid foods provide more flexibility with regard to the mineral sources they use. This is because the acidic environment of the stomach will readily dissolve the minerals, allowing them to enter the bloodstream just as effectively.”

Fortifying bakery products, however, can result in product development, shelf life or other formulation challenges, according to Mary Winger, bakery technologist at Caravan Ingredients. “Although calcium and vitamin D fortification will create acceptable products, such is not the case for all vitamins and minerals,” she said. “Using certain vitamins and minerals can create discolorization and off-flavors in the product, as well as negative processing characteristics. Products with more intense flavor profiles should have better success in masking the off-flavors. For example, a wholegrain product with fortification tends to be more acceptable because the bitterness associated with whole grain may mask the off-flavors from vitamins and minerals.”

Certain functional ingredients may require microencapsulation to maximize stability and guarantee expiration dating as well as minimize taste and odor concerns at retail, Mr. Wright explained. “Some products that are very good for us tend to have unfortunate taste profiles,” he said. “No matter how healthy a product is, no one will buy it if it does not taste good.”

Providing the right dosage option is critical when fortifying snacks and bakery foods for specific age groups, Mr. Wright added. Many times, it’s finding the most popular format. “For kids and younger consumers, there are gummies, liquid shots and nutrition bars,” he said. “For baby boomers and other consumers, there are shakes, bars and dry mix powders.”

During the past year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee noted that calcium, potassium and vitamin D continue to be the nutrients most lacking in consumers’ diets, Ms. Myers said. “Americans have gotten away from eating fresh fruits and vegetables and consuming appropriate amounts of fat-free and low-fat dairy products and wholegrain foods, which would contain these important nutrients,” she said.

DOWN TO THE BONES. Certain demographic groups need more fortification than others. Even the daily values in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are being updated this year, reflect the various needs for people as they go through the different stages of their lives. In fact, the guidelines recommend different values for the amount of certain minerals, vitamins and fiber in consumers’ diets based on a person’s age and specific health and nutritional needs, Ms. Heidolph said. “Take calcium, for instance. Infants need calcium to build bones and teeth,” she observed. “Children use calcium to build the skeleton. As an older adult, calcium is needed to help maintain sufficient levels to slow bone demineralization.”

When it comes to using calcium to fortify foods, companies might consider marketing to more than one age group, according to Mr. Jonas. That’s because those youngsters who wear Pampers often have as much in common as those grandparents who need Depends, especially when it comes to nutrients for better bone health. “I call it the full cycle,” he said. “They are the groups that are the most sensitive — the young and the elderly — and you better believe that people are segmenting their markets to target them already. Fortification is very targeted on what you can accomplish right now. You need to look at your audience and know what they are eating and what they need in their diets.”

Teens also require a greater amount of calcium for their growing bodies, Ms. Nehmer said. Adequate calcium intake for them is 1,300 mg per day, 1,000 mg per day for adults 19 to 50 and 1,200 mg per day for people over age 50, she added.

While calcium is lacking in many diets, Mr. Jonas said, simply adding greater quantities to food isn’t a cureall. In fact, many bodies need vitamin K2 to help it absorb calcium properly to create stronger and more flexible bones in both young children and seniors. “If undirected, the body can put calcium into your skin, into your capillaries and into your arteries,” he observed. “What better way to harden the arteries?”

Instead of focusing on fortifying foods with greater amounts of calcium, Mr. Jonas predicts that the emphasis will be on how the body absorbs and then uses those nutrients to maximize their functionality and potential benefits. “The change that you’re going to see is in improving the utilization of ingredients rather than just getting a greater amount of those ingredients into a product,” he said. “That’s going to be the trend that starts changing things shortly.”

MOST POPULAR BY AGE. Food companies need to better educate consumers about fortification to teach them about potential benefits and clear up confusion. During the past three months, only about half (46%) of all Americans have purchased a functional food, according to Ms. Lais. Often the popularity of select functional foods for a specific age group is driven by that generation’s most common health concerns. Research shows men and women ages 17 to 34, for instance, are more likely to purchase products that are fortified with omega-3s, while adults from ages 35 to 65 prefer to take supplements and vitamins, as well as foods fortified with these nutrients, she said.

Not surprisingly, baby boomers are more concerned about their health than any other age group, ranking calcium deficiency and diabetes among the highest issues on their lists. Although all ages seem cognizant about eating smaller portions, which is why many restaurants and schools now offer more sensibly sized meals, parents remained most concerned about increasing whole grains and eliminating food allergens affecting their younger children, Ms. Lais observed.

Likewise, creative marketing can help get out a targeted message about fortified snacks and baked foods. “Children respond to cartoon ads and characters on labeling,” she said. “Combine that with healthy options, and both children and parents are covered. Children also like small easy-to-handle options or small packs of food. Flavor is key, but if it is something that can be [easily consumed] in the car or around the house, that is good as well.”

Keep in mind that teens tend to focus on how they look and obsess about what everyone is doing around them. “Healthy options are important as they begin to watch their weight,” Ms. Lais noted. “They need brain power for school as well as for keeping up their energy. Options that focus on such factors would be good targets. Finally, they eat on the go a lot of times.” Moreover, teens want to act “older” than they are, so make sure the message doesn’t talk down to them, she said.

In the future, Mr. Jonas noted, new research and ongoing scientific studies will allow food companies to target their marketing more efficiently and comply with changing regulatory requirements. “Clinical studies exist for many products that didn’t exist before,” he said. “Not only are you seeing products being modified to be more functional, but you also have studies proving that these products are effective.” •

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