FIGURE 1.5 Functional food: Scientific substantiation of claims.
therefore needed. These should be based on specific consumer research aimed at finding out how consumers think and talk about health and how they feel about functional foods.
In March 2002, Cogent Research of Cambridge, MA, conducted a survey with 1004 randomly selected U.S. adults by the International Food Information Council (IFIC).15 The major conclusions of that survey are that:
• Almost all (94%) agree that certain foods have health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition and may reduce the risk of disease or other health problems.
• A majority (71%) believe that food and nutrition play "a great role" in maintaining or improving overall health.
• Almost two thirds (63%) say they are eating at least one food to receive a functional health benefit.
According to the IFIC,15 to develop awareness of the potential health benefits of functional foods, "consumers need a clear understanding of and a strong level of confidence in the scientific criteria that are used to document health effects and claims. When communicating about functional foods, it is important to translate quality science into understandable and usable messages that meet consumer needs." Also, IFIC recommends the following specific communication strategies:
• Cite the need for credible, scientific criteria as the basis for messages about functional foods and the development of new food products.
• Accentuate the "good news" about food.
• Place new research findings into context with the overall body of scientific evidence.
• Discuss the benefits of particular components within the context of familiar foods and overall eating patterns.
• Do not overstate potential benefits.
• Ensure that any claims made on- or off-label are based on reasonable and responsible information.15
Combining basic and nutrition research, functional food development, consumer research, and marketing experience are thus major challenges for the functional food industry.
1.3.6 Communication on the Functional Effects of a Prebiotic: An Example
In the particular field of prebiotics and their effects on gastrointestinal functions that are a major target for functional food development (and the main topic of this book), a communication platform has recently been developed with the objective to meet the criteria discussed above. It aims at being a coordinated and balanced way to communicate about gut health to the consumer. It is known as the BENEO® Program, and it is composed of four main elements that are combined to support health messages for everyday foodstuffs:16
• Communication based on science
• Clear, simple, and positive messages
• Appearance of a logo (the BENEO® symbol) on all products and carriers of information that participate in the program
• Consistent communication from different partners
The BENEO® logo indicates the presence of an active ingredient (i.e., chicory inulin or any derived product) in sufficient amount to have the benefits claimed on the product pack. It refers to communication supports that are available to the consumer. Such a communication is developed to be simple to understand, clear, and direct, and also positive. Indeed, the consumer is much more interested in positive messages (enhanced function claims) than in disease risk reduction claims. Moreover, functional foods with a positive message have the potential to become real "family products" that anybody may consume at any time.16 This aspect is probably the most underestimated of functional food marketing today. Indeed, too often functional foods are believed to be medicines disguised as food.
To support the development of the BENEO® communication program, consumer research has been performed in several countries including Belgium, which is often considered as a test market for foods in Europe.
The first part of the research is qualitative. It uses a focus group approach to confront consumers with marketing concepts and techniques. Such a research provides information on how consumers think about food and health (especially intestinal health) and on how they talk about these subjects. It allows formulating proposals and establishing guidelines for communication choices.
The most important conclusion of this part of the research is that consuming functional foods is an easy way to do something beneficial for health. In addition and regarding intestinal health (the major target of prebiotics), the most important information in terms of consumer's perceptions are:
• "Intestinal health" is not a common concept or an easy subject to talk about.
• But "intestinal transit" is seen as a common problem.
• The term intestinal flora does exist in the mind of the consumer and it is not a taboo subject.
• It is understandable that a food product can beneficially affect bacteria in the intestines and therefore have benefits in the short term as well as in the long term.
• A food ingredient that improves the intestinal flora is seen as a natural way of protecting the body and making it function better.
In the second, more quantitative, phase of consumer research, actual food products based on the BENEO® concept were tested and evaluated in large groups of women (±500/group), each woman receiving, a different food product packaged in a white box as a powder to be added to the diet. The positioning concepts of the products were explained to the consumers in an interview before the test phase that lasted for 30 d, after which a second interview was done to collect reactions, experiences, and opinions. The main element of the product positioning was the novelty of the product presented as a "new active plant fiber that nourishes our own good intestinal flora."
The most important general conclusions of this research are:
• The attractiveness of the concept (often translated by the European consumer as "to facilitate the transit" or "good for the intestinal flora)".
• The reports from about two thirds of the consumers of having experienced either an improvement in intestinal function, especially a better transit, or a feeling of well-being.
Based on the results of the consumer research, it was concluded that:
• "Gut health" and "intestinal well-being" are meaningful terms.
• "Gut flora" and "intestinal transit" are familiar European (but probably not US) concepts.
The fact that it is difficult to talk about these terms (especially in the US) does not mean that communication concepts cannot be built around them. Moreover, it is clear that consumers can actually experience a feeling of increased intestinal well-being, especially after consuming chicory inulin or any derived product.
Consumer research can also guide selection of the best channels to communicate the message to consumers. It is clearly not a matter of massive advertising. The types of media used to communicate are also important and, again, this differs from country to country. In Belgium, there is high emphasis on providing correct information to health professionals, dieticians, nutritionists, and physicians.
An essential element of the BENEO® program is the BENEO® Scientific Committee composed of independent scientific experts in health and nutrition (see the Preface). In view of the strong requirement for a scientifically sound communication, it has several tasks. The first task is to put forward the general principles for functional food development (see above) that all partners in the program should respect. Based on these principles, the second task is to review and evaluate the scientific data available concerning the functional effects of inulin or any of its derivatives and to help formulate any communication messages (including the wording to be used) to the health professionals and/or the consumers.
The Scientific Committee gives recommendations and guidance for further research projects. It is a source of valuable scientific input.
1.3.7 Perspectives in Functional Food Development and the Case of the Prebiotics
The concept of functional food, as it has been developed in Europe over the last decade, is an interesting and very stimulating concept. It is one promising opportunity to tackle the new challenges facing the industrialized societies at the beginning of the new century. But today it is still mainly a scientific challenge, and its success in helping to develop and elaborate what might become the "optimized nutrition" will strongly depend on scientific progress in the science of nutrition in the next years to come (Figure 1.6).
The development of functional foods must rely on good science. In particular human data generated by good and well-designed human nutrition studies are an essential requirement for functional food development and for the substantiation of claims. But the communication of scientifically valid "claims" is also a major challenge. If such a communication needs to be clear and understandable, it must also, and more important be truthful and not misleading, as well as adapted to consumers' skills.
The Council of Europe17 recently issued "Guidelines Concerning the Substantiation of Health-Related Claims for Functional Foods" and ILSI Europe is presently coordinating a new EU-founded concerted action to elaborate further on the Process for the Assessment of Scientific Support for Claims on foods (PASSCLAIM).
As identified in the FUFOSE project,18 the main targets for functional food development are
1. Growth, development, and differentiation
2. Substrate metabolism and the syndrome X
3. Defense against reactive oxidative species
4. Cardiovascular functions
5. Gastrointestinal physiology and functions
Among these, gastrointestinal physiology and functions are key topics that have already attracted a great deal of interest both in the scientific community and the food industry. The physiology of the large bowel and the composition and activities of the microbial ecosystem which colonizes it are major targets which are especially attracting a great deal of interest, as shown by the most recent developments in the fields of probiotic, prebiotic, and synbiotic.19-21
Progress has also been made in improving communication to health professionals and consumers. The BENEO® program is one example that demonstrates how consumer research can complement scientific research to improve the quality and the readability of messages.
This book has two objectives: first, to review extensively the scientific data available on the nutritional properties of chicory inulin and all its derived products. These are model prebiotics that are classified as dietary fiber. The second objective is to discuss their properties by reference to the concept of functional food introduced above. Taking into account the strategy for functional food development that includes basic and experimental research to formulate hypotheses of functional effects to be tested in human nutrition studies, the book is aimed at validating claims to be used to communicate the effects of these food ingredients. As functional food science is a part of the science of nutrition, each chapter is introduced by summarizing the basic scientific knowledge underpinning the relevance of effects on well-being and health, and the reduction of disease risk. The literature reviewed includes all papers published before the end of January 2004, plus a few reports in press or in preparation that the author has had the opportunity to review.
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