Bone health in 2015 and beyond: bigger, better, braver

Bone health much discussed, widely researched worldwide and increasingly important to consumers, retailers and manufacturers of supplements, beverage, dairy products and baked goods, says Dirk Goedhart, Marketing Communications Manager, Food, at Corbion Purac

Bone health is a topic that journalists both in Europe and in the USA have reported on regularly for years — and its attracting more and more interest from developing markets in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. It would be easy to think, with so much attention from researchers and the medical profession, and seemingly endless press coverage and product launches, that bone health has “been done” and that “we all know calcium is good for bones, and that it’s important for babies, children and elderly people”.

And yet, here we are in July 2014, taking a look at it again. Why? Because bone health entails so much more than two simple words can sum up; because European demographics, consumption habits and regulations are changing dramatically; because the entire market has evolved and diversified almost beyond recognition. It is cluttered, highly competitive and sometimes confusing. Because, like any other large and growing market, being different from everyone else and offering more value to customers and consumers is critical to business success; and because it represents a massive opportunity for nutraceutical producers.

The big picture

There is no denying that bone health is already big business. According to the GNPD database, nearly 1,900 products with bone health claims have been launched in Europe during the past five years, and more than 900 in the USA. There are several reasons for this. Not only are consumers more aware of the importance of healthy nutrition in general, especially in developing markets, but they are very conscious of the fact that bone health deteriorates as they get older. Many of us have elderly relatives or friends who suffer from osteoporosis or have fallen and broken wrists or hips.

At the same time, many Europeans and Americans know the world’s population is ageing and, as a result, they are more likely to have these problems themselves. That said, they might not realise quite how quickly that ageing is taking place. In 2000, there were just over 600 million people aged 60+: the UN predicts that that figure will reach almost 2 billion by 2050.1

Bones are an absolute fundamental of health and well-being from cradle to grave

But ageing populations are not the only driver of increased interest in bone health. Osteopenia is on the rise in both older and younger generations thanks to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, falling milk consumption and, in some markets, widespread smoking and the growing use of alcohol. Perhaps most important, though, is the growing understanding that bones are an absolute fundamental of health and well-being from cradle to grave. As well as literally being the skeleton our bodies grow around, bones enable movement, protect all our vital organs and store minerals for use when needed.

Serving the savvy

Responding to these developments and meeting the demands of today’s better-educated consumers, food and drink formulators are already channelling huge resources into bone-healthy options. But this is not a simple strategy. The introduction of new ingredients not only alters a recipe or formulation, it almost always has far-reaching consequences for taste, texture, stability, cost and manufacturing processes. Much as consumers want healthier products, they are not prepared to accept compromise in their eating experience, and any increase in price must be clearly justified.

Consumers are looking for simple direction on what clear and proven benefits a product has

Labelling plays a critical role here. With rapidly changing legislation and regulation, this area can feel like a minefield; but getting it right is essential. Stating that a product is “a source of” or has “added” calcium, for example, is quickly becoming insufficient because it is too generic. Consumers are looking for simple direction on what clear (and proven) benefits a product has — so expanding current wording to include “which contributes to the maintenance of normal bones” or similar, implied phrasing, such as “for bone health” is beneficial. Keeping it simple and stating mineral content per portion (rather than per pack or per 100 mL) further helps to inform buying decisions.

Ingredient suppliers can offer valuable support in labelling and claims, from sharing an in-depth understanding of the regulatory and legislative environment to advising on what claims can be made for a specific formulation. One example of this is Corbion Purac’s beverage fortification calculator, a freely available online tool that predicts the impact of calcium fortification on pH, osmolality and precipitation in a soft drink formulation.

Standing out from the crowd

In its November 2013 report, Opportunities to Target the Ageing through Functional Food and Drink, Euromonitor stated that “Bone health is ... set to remain the leading ageing-related prime positioning”. It is clear there is an enormous and still growing demand for bone-healthy foods and drinks, but with hundreds of products being launched in this sector every year, differentiation will be as important as accurate positioning and communicating a clear health benefit and value.

Calcium has, for many years, been a staple in bone health products and is still the most popular mineral for those purposes, thanks to its prevalence, familiarity and evidence from dozens of studies proving its efficacy in improving and maintaining bone mass and density. Mintel research indicates the number of calcium-fortified dairy products is on the rise all over the world, especially in Europe.

Combining complementary ingredients is rapidly becoming an attractive proposition and is already being adopted

Seeking not only to ensure their products stand out from the competition, but are also nutritionally more effective, the most innovative formulators are now adopting a more holistic approach to bone health. This means fortifying with more than just one micronutrient, so adding more value and facilitating the development of offerings that will appeal to distinct segments of the market. There are many options here, because nine ingredients have approved bone health claims in the EU, including magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, vitamin D, vitamin K and manganese. Combining complementary ingredients is rapidly becoming an attractive proposition and is already being adopted by companies such as Nestlé, Yoplait and Marks & Spencer, as well as numerous dietary supplement and baby formula manufacturers.

Marvellous magnesium: One of the most interesting combinations is calcium with magnesium. The daily European NRV for magnesium is now 300mg and, in the USA the RDI is 400mg. On both sides of the Atlantic, diets are still deficient in magnesium despite the fact that many people are now trying to eat more vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. As well as having bone health benefits in its own right, magnesium converts vitamin D into its active form so it can aid calcium absorption. As a result calcium/magnesium blends are extremely effective and set for further growth during the coming years, notably in the functional dairy and beverage categories.

The zinc zone: Zinc, also recognised as necessary for the maintenance of normal bones, is most prevalent in oysters, red meat and poultry. Comparatively low awareness levels of its role in human health, the shift away from red meats and the continued rise of vegetarianism mean many European consumers do not consume enough zinc. Thanks to its multiple health benefits, including growth and cell division, eyesight and immune support, zinc is of particular importance to infants, children, athletes, vegetarians and the elderly — precisely the people for whom bone health is also a priority. Although widely found in supplement applications, zinc is a relative newcomer to functional foods and drinks — but is used in a meal replacement beverage in Migros’s Actilife healthy eating range in Switzerland and a Chinese soy milk drink sold by V V Food & Beverage.

Overcoming the technical challenge

It is well known that using a functional ingredient such as calcium can present significant technical challenges, especially in dairy products, in which taste is often delicate and must therefore be carefully managed, and beverages, which are liable to precipitation and mouthfeel issues. Incorporating more micronutrients is an exciting and lucrative strategy but makes these challenges even greater.

As a result, selecting a reputable mineral supplier is essential. Corbion Purac, for example, draws on more than 80 years of experience in fortification, regulatory expertise and detailed market insight to offer valuable application knowledge and technical support that bring appealing, added-value bone health products to market quickly and smoothly. Partnering with suppliers like this optimises product quality, minimises NPD timescales and risk and ensures regulatory compliance while maximising the use of permitted health claims. Such collaborations open up a wealth of opportunities to tap into Europe’s progressive bone health market.

Reference

1. Departments of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, United Nations, “World Population Ageing 1950–2050,” www.un.org/esa/population/publications/worldageing19502050 (2001).

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