Health has overtaken convenience when it comes to retailers making claims about food. So says a new report citing ‘natural’ inclusions as a key driver in the rush to cash in on diet and well-being trends.

Research indicates the so-called ‘functional foods’ market is still “in a state of evolution with product repertoires expanding rapidly as soon as new functional ingredients emerge”. (Mintel, Mar 2006).

On one hand ‘natural’ ingredients with antioxidant properties, such as blueberries, as well as oats, nuts and seeds, are driving sales. On the other, added functional ingredients with specific health benefits are shaping NPD in functional foods.

Natural focus

But media attention on naturally healthy foods such as whole grains and seeds could ultimately see consumers turning their backs on foods born in the laboratory, the report suggests. “It is possible that growing interest in health may prompt some consumers to bypass manufactured functionality in favour of nature.”

Linseeds, known as flaxseeds in the US, are a natural source of ALA omega 3 fatty acid and could be the next big thing, says Mintel. The same goes for hemp, which is high in essential fatty acids, and helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Seeded bakery products such as The Food Doctor-branded bagels, which are selling in Tesco, are meeting with great success, says Crispin Clay of Lawncourt Harvest (Leiston, Suffolk). The company supplies a blend of flavoured sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds for the bagel topping, which are cholesterol and gluten free.

“The demand for the product is definitely increasing and TV nutritionists are constantly mentioning the health benefits of seeds,” he comments. “This has had a dramatic effect on people’s perceptions – they don’t see it as bird seed any more.”

Nuts for nuts

“We have seen a huge increase in nuts – almonds, brazils, walnuts and the rest,” says Martin Rome, trading director at Whitworths (Wellingborough, Northants), which counts Northern Foods and RHM among its customers.

“We have seen a desire to create premium products with more fruit,” he continues, adding that there is growth in flavoured fruits (such as a cranberry-flavoured raisins), vine fruit blends with added tropical fruits to “sex it up a bit”, and apricots.

“A vine fruit or a nut in a cake or bar has all the right connotations, and therefore people are looking to put more of these in their products. It isn’t necessarily going to turn it into a healthy product, but people feel less guilty in buying it.”