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Consumer awareness of health ingredients: walking the fine line of innovation between foods and drugs.

The customer is king! Innovations in food ingredients offer a plethora of opportunities to be tackled by different industry players. But, with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) about to publish the third batch of its health claim assessments, such progress is being seen as a double-edged sword. Even though this development is fostering innovation--as it sets a legal framework--communicating the functional benefits of ingredients will remain a challenging task in the future. Therefore, regulatory frameworks, as well as consumer awareness at the B2B level, are ever more important hurdles to consider before R&D funds are spent.

The market for food ingredients has changed rapidly in recent years. But, both legislation--such as health claims regulation (EC 1924/2006)--and industry structure is evolving only slowly. At the same time, health and well-being is the most influential current food trend, opening up a wellspring of innovation opportunities for the food, specialty chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. In particular, convergence and the gradual overlap of the food and the pharmaceutical industries are leading to a new inter-industry segment at the border between foods and drugs (Figure 1). This new inter-industry segment is no longer "just" an academic playing field to analyse competitive behaviour. Nowadays, innovation strategies in the functional food sector have become more evident and are shaping the industry itself. Nestle's recent announcements regarding the creation of "Nestle Health Science SA" and the "Nestle Institute of Health Sciences" to confidently "pioneer a new industry between food and pharma" show that these opportunities will trigger more R&D and product innovations in the future.


Nestle has set itself a very ambitious goal; the area between food and pharma needs competencies from both industries. Moreover, product approval and the communication of health benefits often seem to consume multiple resources. This is because the health benefits of these hybrid products need to be backed up by sound science. Accordingly, industry convergence has a tendency to focus on the technological level and the application of the same technologies. Likewise, they increasingly manifest themselves at the regulatory level in similar regulatory requirements, such as the clinical trials required by EFSA as part of the assessment of health claims.

Initially, more than 44,000 dossiers were submitted to EFSA to obtain a health claim. And, of the consolidated package of 4637 generic health claims that were submitted, industry experts assume that only 5% will be approved. What does that mean for the development of food ingredients with health properties? In those cases when a health claim under EC 1924/2010 is approved--be it a generic claim based on existing science (Article 13), a new claim involving novel science (Article 13.5) or a more detailed risk reduction claim or one pertaining to children (Article 14)--the legal way to communicate health benefits has then been established. If that is not the case, there might be an option to use a nutritional claim based on the policies given in the annex of the health claims regulation. However, in those cases when a food supplier only uses the word "contains," it then depends solely on the consumer's individual degree of involvement, or their ingredient-related-knowledge and awareness, to perceive a benefit from the product or not.

The Importance of Consumer Acceptance and Awareness

So far, only a few innovations have turned out to be successful. Why is that? One key success factor for new products is consumer acceptance. New products on the market can only be successful if the consumer understands the product's positioning and its health claim. Therefore, consumer acceptance plays a pivotal role and needs to be assessed carefully before a new product is launched. But how can you predetermine the consumer acceptance of a new product that carries a certain health claim? The basis of consumer acceptance is influenced by a number of endogenous and exogenous factors. Endogenous factors concern the relevant consumer characteristics that have an impact on the acceptance and, later on, their willingness to pay for a functional health benefit. These consumer-specific factors are accompanied by external influences, such as the purchasing situation and external recommendations of the product.

The "consumer characteristics" influence factor concerns the health status of the consumer and their individual knowledge about ingredients, leading to specific ingredient awareness (Figure 2). With "purchasing situation" being the second factor influencing consumer acceptance, the consumer's familiarity with a certain company or brand plays an important role. This is followed by the impact of key opinion formers, such as health professionals, which may influence consumer acceptance by recommending certain products regarding their functional health benefits. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the "product characteristics" themselves. This third dimension presents a multifaceted phenomenon; product characteristics such as taste and other olfactory properties can only be experienced ex post by the consumer. Therefore, the focus is on the initial purchasing situation and only takes into consideration search items such as the impact of the specific health claim and other attributes including quality and ingredient effectiveness claims.


Awareness Case Study

Given the necessity of consumer acceptance for the adoption of new functional health ingredients by the market, the aim of this study was to explore the impact of the three criteria detailed in Figure 2. These include the purchasing power of consumer characteristics, such as their health status and personal ingredient awareness, the influence of the purchasing situation, as well as the product characteristics. In this study, the surveys were centred on NEM, an active ingredient for joint health derived from natural eggshell membrane, which is manufactured by ESM Technologies, LLC. First of all, it is very important to know how consumers categorize their joint health, because personal attitudes influence the acceptance of certain products and their ingredients. Within this study, most of the interviewed German adults (aged 40 years or older) are at least "concerned" about their joint health. Considering the age distribution, it has to be mentioned that the older the consumer gets, the more joint health becomes a problem. The interviewees showed a rather limited awareness of joint health ingredients. However, the study revealed that the more joint health becomes a problem, the higher the consumer awareness of relevant health ingredients is (Figure 3), whereas users of non-prescribed drugs knew most about the products available. This may be because of them having the highest degree of involvement and/or the amount of effort and time they spend to actively search out remedies and supplements. Interestingly, as soon as the consumer is under medical treatment, the awareness declines, possibly as a result of the patient relying on the doctor to look after everything, leading to a lower level of research and investigation.


Product characteristics vary tremendously between different product categories. In this study, the focus was put on one special product for maintaining joint health. An important finding is that nothing seems to be more important to German consumers than a product recommendation given by health professionals. It was also found to be important to German consumers that all the natural health ingredients contained in the product are declared on the package. Of most interest was the relevance of the effectiveness of a functional ingredient that was tested with the statements, "fast action on pain reduction" and "fast action on increased flexibility." These two "fast action" claims were rated as having higher-thanaverage importance by the respondents. This shows a high differentiator among consumers within different world areas as well. When the same effectiveness statements were compared with dosing size in North America, consumers favoured a "one a day" dosing claim as opposed to the "fast action" message.

Assessment and Product Positioning

As noted previously, scientific support is certainly required to develop claims to explain the benefits of functional ingredients and build a case for EFSA approval. But, to position any new product, consumer assessment may help to verify the target group and potential communication strategies. As an ingredient supplier, this is one value-added part of the overall puzzle and a significant step towards fully understanding how the ingredient's product development will progress and how, ultimately, it will deliver consumer benefits.

For more information

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Broring

University of Applied Sciences Osnabruck

Osnabruck, Germany.

Michael Faber

European Business Manager

Stratum Nutrition

Berlin, Germany.

The NEM consumer relevance study was conducted by the University of Applied Sciences Osnabruck for Stratum Nutrition, an ESM Technologies joint venture partner, to advance the brand of NEM.
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Title Annotation:joint and bone health
Author:Broring, Stefanie; Faber, Michael
Publication:Nutraceutical Business & Technology
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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