The turbulent economic times may have consumers seeking calmness in 2011. With that in mind, this year the food and beverage industry may see more innovation in digestive-helpful probiotic bacteria, especially in juices, and a surging trend in calming beverages, which may feature a green tea extract called L-theanine.

Digestive health ranks No. 1 in the report “10 Key Trends in Food, Nutrition & Health 2011” from London-based New Nutrition Business.

“Products for digestive health have recently proven themselves to be almost recession-proof, even when selling at premium prices,” the report said. “It has become clear that while consumers are willing to economize in some areas, maintaining good digestive health is one area where committed consumers remain loyal to brands that they can trust, even when they are premium-priced.”

The dairy category has seen many probiotic innovations, but another category appears ripe for product development.

“Juice for digestive health — whether it’s probiotic or fiber-fortified — is the emerging biggest opportunity of the next decade,” the report said. “Juice will not rival dairy, but it will take a large niche position. Juice drinks can do what almost no other category can do and deliver digestive health benefits in highly-convenient, drinkable format.”

Some probiotic strains may fit well in juices. In Europe in 2010, Probi, Lund, Sweden, and Danone, Paris, signed exclusive license agreements for 10 years that provide Danone with exclusive rights to use Probi’s Lp299v technology in probiotic fruit drinks and fruit juices for gut health outside North America.

Danisco, Copenhagen, Denmark, on Oct. 27, 2010, filed a petition concerning the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status of the probiotic Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The petition, which still was pending near the end of 2010, says the probiotic is safe for use as an ingredient in foods, including certain dairy products, functional beverages, nutritional powders, juices, bars, ready-to-eat cereal, chewing gum and confections.

Consumer awareness of probiotics stood at 60% in 2009, which was up from 49% in 2008 and 31% in 2007, according to the Natural Marketing Institute. Expect probiotics to follow a market curve similar to that of omega-3 fatty acids.

Anti-energy drinks

Energy drinks, like probiotic products, are items consumers pay a premium price for because of their functional benefits. According to the Canadean report “Emerging trends and growth opportunities in energy drinks,” exotic herbs and substances such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng and milk thistle often are present in the drinks as is the fat-burning compound L-carnitine.

The Canadean report also touched on anti-energy or relaxation drinks, which are targeted primarily at young adults and professionals. Typical ingredients in the relaxation drinks include valerian root, rosehips, L-theanine, melatonin and chamomile.

“A counter trend to energy drinks developing in North America, and beginning to emerge in Europe, is anti-energy or relaxation drinks,” the report said. “Rather than offering an energy/instant boost, these products promise to calm the mind, reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality. While still very much a niche segment, in the current climate of financial and job insecurity, it seems that the concept is generating significant interest in North America and the number of entrants is growing.”

Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice-president and chief scientific officer of Fortitech, Inc., Schenectady, N.Y., in 2010 issued the report “Chill, ‘Good Mood Foods.’” He listed omega-3 fatty acids, tryptophan and green tea as examples of sources of stress-reducing ingredients.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid, is a component in the membrane of brain cells. It enhances the way the brain is able to use various chemicals and may activate the genes that make serotonin to help reduce mood swings and depression. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in milk and in many protein-rich foods, has been shown to increase serotonin levels. Green tea contains L-theanine, which is said to relax the brain to reduce stress and anxiety with tranquilizing effects.

“As it is digested in the small intestine, L-theanine stimulates the brain’s production of alpha waves, which makes a person feel relaxed but alert,” Dr. Chaudhari said in the report. “It also helps with relaxation by stimulating the body to produce other calming amino acids such as dopamine and tryptophan.”

Blue California, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., received notification from the F.D.A. that confirmed the GRAS status of the company’s L-TeaActive (L-theanine) for use in a variety of food products.

For one product launch, the AriZona Beverage Co., Woodbury, N.Y., introduced its Rescue Water line, with each variety corresponding with a purpose. The relax variety features L-theanine.

The Chill Group, Inc., San Diego, launched Just Chill at InterBev 2010 in Orlando, Fla., in September. The stress-relief beverage includes 100 mg of L-theanine. Other ingredients associated with stress relief are lemongrass, Siberian ginseng, vitamin C and magnesium.

More potential for innovation

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sustainability, omega-3 fatty acids and political unrest in Africa all may play roles in influencing other ingredient trends in 2011.

Dietary Guidelines: The food and beverage industry still awaited the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans at the end of 2010. Whether or not the guidelines reduce the amount of sodium people should consume daily and increase the amount of vitamin D they should consume remained in question.

Potassium chloride, flavor maskers to counter a bitter taste associated with potassium chloride, and yeast extracts all may be used as tools in creating sodium-reduced products. Frank Meijer, senior product specialist for DSM Food Specialties, Heerlen, The Netherlands, led a webinar on salt reduction Dec. 16 that focused on the company’s yeast extracts and their ability to reduce sodium in products 30% to 80%.

For the future of salt reduction, he said, “Most companies signal further steps will be difficult, without making their products bland and risk losing consumer preference. Further reductions will either require more time to see if consumers will adapt their taste profile or if that additional time is not given, companies will use a pallet of ingredients to repair taste.”

Grain-based foods companies might be more inclined to use vitamin D yeast if the F.D.A. approves a petition from Montreal-based Lallemand. It seeks to increase the allowable vitamin D content of yeast-raised baked goods to 400 international units (I.U.) per 100 grams from 90 I.U. per 100 grams.

Sustainability: London-based Unilever has led efforts in Europe to use palm oil sourced sustainably. This year may reveal whether the trend takes hold in North America. Certified sustainable palm oil from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has reached 3.2 million tonnes, which is still only about 7% of world production.

Omega-3 fatty acids: The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) will hold the GOED Exchange 2011, its first conference, on Jan. 13-14 in Salt Lake City, Utah. It will focus on markets for the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA.

More omega-3 fatty acid innovation may be on the way now that DSM has agreed to acquire Martek Biosciences Corp., a Columbia, Md.-based supplier of DHA, for more than $1 billion. It is expected DSM’s global market reach, technology base and application skill capabilities will accelerate Martek’s growth.

Political unrest in Africa: The year 2010 saw record-high prices for cocoa and a resulting need for cocoa extenders. This year might see more of the same because of the political climate in the Ivory Coast, a top producer of cocoa. Pressure in late December was mounting on incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to step down from power in the country after his apparent loss in the presidential election.

An upcoming election in Sudan, a top producer of acacia gum, also known as gum Arabic, may have an impact on that ingredient as well as acacia gum alternatives. Voting on Jan. 9 will determine whether southern Sudan should become independent or remain part of a united Sudan.