David B. Schmidt
International Food Information Council, USA

In recent years, “functional foods” have become increasingly popular. Defined as foods or food components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition, functional foods are widely believed to offer consumers an increased ability to reduce the risk of certain health problems including cancer, osteoporosis, and even childhood blindness. The food industry has produced new products enriched with “functional” compounds such as soy or vitamin E and emphasized the new-found value of old products containing essential nutrients. The news media have contributed to this trend by heralding the health benefits of foods like Vitamin A enriched rice, cranberry juice and tomato sauce naturally containing lycopene. This rapid enthusiasm, however, raises the question: Is this a temporary market trend? Or the signal of a major shift in how consumers relate to food?

Research conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) since 1996 suggests that consumer demand for functional foods has steadily increased and will continue to do so. In fact, a study conducted in February 2000 reveals that consumers continue to shift their focus on food content from reducing harmful ingredients (i.e., fats, salt) to incorporating healthful components into their diets. These findings reinforce trends identified in earlier research. Read more…