Dana Cvetan

Cup of reishi tea and fresh Lingzhi mushroom

© krungchingpixs/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Cup of reishi tea and fresh Lingzhi mushroom

© krungchingpixs/iStock / Getty Images Plus

A multitude of challenges exist side-by-side with a multitude of opportunities for the next generation of functional ingredients, noted Micaela Hayes, PhD, innovation analyst with RTI Innovations Advisors, speaking at a Tuesday IFT FIRST forum addressing the role of food science in public health and nutrition policy.

Consumers are demanding more and more of their food, viewing it as medicine and desiring benefits outside of just traditional nutrition. They want food to help them be proactive in managing their health and to enhance their day-to-day lives. “The lines between the pharmaceutical industry, the nutraceutical industry, and the food industry continue to blur,” Hayes observed.

Driving this trend is an aging population, increases in chronic disease, and COVID-19, Hayes said.

As ingredients move from the pharmaceutical world to the food world, technologies capable of improving the bioavailability of active compounds are following that same trend, Hayes reported. “Ultimately, this next generation of functional ingredients is really providing the food industry an opportunity to play a role in improving the holistic health of consumers.”

Next-generation functional ingredients are going beyond traditional claims like immunity, gut health, performance, and energy and expanding into new spaces such as mental health, focus, calmness, anti-anxiety, mood, tranquility, and more, Hayes says. Further, “ingredients that are traditionally known to be associated with one benefit, say, gut health, are now being marketed to improve other aspects of well-being—say, sleep or immunity.”

Emerging classes of compounds that are currently piquing consumer interest or are at an early stage of development include adaptogens (ashwagandha, ginseng, holy basil), nootropics (choline, L-theanine, gingko biloba, huperzine A), postbiotics, and fungi (reishi, cordyceps, lion’s mane).

There exist a variety of ways to improve the stability and bioavailability of compounds in the food matrix, Hayes points out. They include emulsions, encapsulation, and bioenhancement.

Because the market popularity of certain ingredients sometimes exceeds scientific evidence of efficacy, it can render claim strategies and market entry strategies more difficult for companies seeking to enter the space.

Increased scientific evaluation is a necessary step to confront this reality, Hayes notes. “So for product developers seeking to play in this space, or others seeking to enter this space, this certainly poses a challenge. If you want to put a product on the market that can promise the delivery of a functional benefit and compete with a plethora of other products on the market, you really have to be strategic.

First, determine which functional benefit or benefits are most suited to your products, or if you have a vision for a new brand, Hayes advises. Next, evaluate ingredients for market and scientific evidence, safety, and suitability for an intended application.

Lastly, Hayes said, functional ingredients are only functional if they are delivered, and absorbed by the end consumer. “So it becomes important to consider the design of the food product to optimize that ingredient’s absorption.”

About the Author

Dana Cvetan is a freelance writer based in Barrington, Ill. ([email protected]).

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