Functional Food Trends 2012: Consumers Want Nutrients from Food, Not Supplements

March 30, 2012

CHICAGO – The Top 10 Functional Food Trends of 2012 point to more consumers favor getting their vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat and beverages they drink instead of supplements, according to research presented Wednesday at the Institute of Food Technologists' Wellness 12 meeting.

A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., president, Sloan Trends Inc. and contributing editor of IFT's Food Technology magazine, presented the research at the conference, which included data from a variety of scientific, food and consumer research sources.  Leading the trends this year is a move toward "real food nutrition," which includes blending different foods for maximum health benefits, choosing foods for their inherent nutritional value (such as nuts or fruits) and integrating whole food supplements such as coconut milk into the diet, rather than supplementing with a vitamin.

"Consumers are preferring to get their nutrients naturally and their health benefits naturally, versus fortified foods or vitamin and mineral supplements," Dr. Sloan said. "This has been going on for 20 years. What's new is that it's being put into action."

The data showed a 6 percentage point increase from 2009 to 2011 (36 to 42 percent) in the number of people making an effort to serve meals that are naturally higher in vitamins and nutrition. At the same time, vitamin and supplement users report cutting back significantly on their use, citing three reasons:

  • A belief that the quality and benefits of nutrition in foods is best
  • Pervasive doubts about the bioavailability of even the highest quality supplements
  • Concerns about the long-term effects on the digestive system

Dr. Sloan noted that consumers believe that vitamins and minerals are more beneficial when they are consumed in food. Other trends for 2012 include:

No. 2  Mini-Managers.  Rather than making drastic dietary changes, consumers are still buying the same staples, such as bread and pasta, but they are seeking healthier versions of those products. For example, a study cited by Dr. Sloan found that 66 percent of shoppers said they have switched to whole grain bread. Another study found that for the first time, shoppers are now considering whether a product has artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup when evaluating its nutritional value.

No. 3 Bioavailability. Dr. Sloan noted that consumers increasingly believe nutrition plays a key role in maintaining health and staving off serious diseases, and they will seek products that help them get important nutrients. According to one study:

  • 55 percent of consumers believe calcium is very effective for bone health
  • 55 percent believe fiber is very effective against colon cancer
  • 38 percent believe omega vitamins are very effective for heart health

In cases where consumers take a dietary supplement, magnesium is the fastest-growing mineral (up 25 percent in 2011). In addition, supplements that promote healthy vision are surging in popularity.

The full article about the Top Functional Food Trends will be in the April 2012 issue of Food Technology magazine.

Top Ten Functional Food Trends

  • Real Food Nutrition
  • Mini-Managers
  • Bioavailability
  • Protein Power
  • Plant Based
  • Gourmet Nutrition
  • The New Risks (stroke, heart attack prevention)
  • First Aid (relief from sore throat, constipation, sleeplessness)
  • Kids, Dads and Grannies (appealing to these groups)
  • Liquidification

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The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a nonprofit scientific society. Our individual members are professionals engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government. IFT's mission is to advance the science of food, and our long-range vision is to ensure a safe and abundant food supply, contributing to healthier people everywhere.

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