The global health and wellness trend has driven growth in the functional food market. Consumers are looking for food that not only taste good, but can improve health too. This interest and demand goes beyond just low fat or sugar-free alternatives but extends to specific nutrients or ingredients (or a combination) that target chronic diseases. It is estimated that the functional food industry in the US alone will be worth around $8.62billion by 2015.
A recent IFIC review found that consumers are very interested in functional foods, however some barriers include preparation, taste and cost. In a previous report, consumers although aware of the benefits of functional foods were still not buying them. The use of functional foods is generally to help reduce risks of developing a chroic disease or to treat it. Wendel et al recently reported that consumers prefer to get personallised nutrition advice and recommendations from healthcare professionals such as GP´s and Dietitians. HCP´s on the other hand are less aware and more skeptical of functional foods because they have been traditionally marketed directly to the consumers without always a strong scientific basis. It is was common for consumers to go to their hcp´s to ask their opinion about product x, at which point the hcp would do further research and contact the company or hcp´s would get information via newsletters and mailshots.
This model has been slowly changing over the last few years as information is now easily accessible and consumers become more sophisticated and self-treat. Influencing hcp´s to recommend functional food products as well as keeping them informed of new products and developments is crucial especially in view of new EFSA regulation.
There is however a gaping hole between the fast growing functional food companies and the link with hcp´s who are viewed as being the ideal group to provide recommendations according to specific conditions. So what is the solution to ensure that people who need functional food products actually use them?,here are my thoughts;
- Functional food companies need to act like the traditional drug rep and speak to hcp´s on the ground of new products with evidence of research, effectiveness, cost-benefit analysis and practical implementation
- Functional food companies need to move away from the traditional global consumer marketing approach and use hcp conferences and digital platforms to inform,communicate and educate
- Functional food companies need to better understand how consumers are addressing their health needs and concerns as well as get familiar with the evidence base and protocols of the treatment of specific conditions before developing a new product
- Companies need to invest in employing well-qualified staff such as Dietitians to educate and influence as well as to lend credibility to brands, and to keep abreast of developments in the personalized nutrition/nutrigenomics market.
The world is moving at a fast pace and marketing teams need to urgenty come up with new ways to reach niche markets where consumers are aware, but not buying functional foods. Bridging the gap by linking healthcare professionals practice with the consumer behaviour and individual knowledge will without doubt require new tactics.
For information on how we can help, visit our services page
- Wendel et al.Consumers´intention to use health recommendation systems to receive personalized nutrition advice. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6963/13/126
- IFIC consumer survey 2013