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More than four in ten consumers have increased their purchases of functional foods, beverages and supplements since the start of the pandemic, a major global survey has found.

Kerry, the makers of clinically proven immune health ingredient Wellmune®, surveyed 13,000 people across 16 countries to provide manufacturers with insights into the impact of COVID-19 on purchasing behaviours.

Forty-four per cent of respondents globally said they had bought more dietary supplements since the outbreak of the pandemic, while 42 % had increased their purchases of functional or fortified foods and beverages.

Respondents were presented with a list of health areas and asked which were reasons for buying healthy lifestyle products. Globally nearly six in ten (58 %) chose immune system support, significantly more than the numbers who picked healthy bones and joints (46 %), digestive health (43 %), heart health (40 %) and improved energy (39 %). Immune health was the top health benefit sought by consumers in each of the 16 countries surveyed.

As many as 39 % of consumers had used an immune health product over the past six months and a further 30 % would consider doing so in future, suggesting a total potential immune health market of 69 %.

John Quilter, Kerry VP of Global Portfolio – ProActive Health, said: “Interest in health and wellness has never been higher and we wanted to give the industry new insights into changing purchasing habits. One of our key findings was the scale of the impact of the pandemic on demand – not just for immune health products, but for functional foods, beverages, and supplements overall. Consumers were adopting increasingly proactive, holistic attitudes to health, wellness and nutrition long before 2020 but the pandemic has massively accelerated this trend.”

The survey also reveals the food and beverage categories where immune health is a particularly powerful purchase driver. One in three (33 %) consumers said they would be interested in purchasing fruit and vegetable juices if they contained ingredients that promoted immune support. Many other categories were also seen as a good fit for immune health benefits, including spoonable yogurt (31 %), dairy-based drinks (28 %) and hot beverages (24 %).

Current beverage labeling regulations appear to fall short of helping parents identify the ingredients, sugar and juice makeup of beverages they purchase for their children, a recent study published in Pediatric Obesity suggests. This has researchers calling for changes to beverage labeling regulations to increase transparency and help consumers choose healthier beverages.

The experimental online study included over 1,600 parents who had healthy children aged 1 to 5 years old. Parents were shown product label information for commonly consumed children’s beverages, including flavoured waters, 100 % fruit juice, and juice drinks and other beverages containing added sugars or non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners. Some parents were shown only front labels, while some were shown both front and back or side labels which included the Nutrition Facts panel and other information. Study participants then answered questions concerning the sugar and percent juice content of the beverages.

About one-third of participants indicated they were not confident they could identify the added sugar and juice content of beverages. Only about half of study participants (48 percent) said they looked at the Nutrition Facts panel all or most of the time when choosing beverages for their children.

Overall, participants frequently underestimated the percent of juice in 100 % fruit juice. Even though the percent juice was stated on the package front for the 100 % fruit juice product in the study, only 51 percent of parents who were shown only the package front correctly identified the juice percentage. When exposed to additional information on the back and side panels, 37 percent still could not correctly identify the percent juice and 40 percent incorrectly said that 100 % juice contained added sugars.

Conversely, participants frequently overestimated the amount of pure fruit juice in sugar-sweetened juice drinks and beverages. For an added-sugar product that looks similar to 100 % orange juice but contains only 5 percent juice, almost all participants (98 percent) could not accurately state the amount of pure juice just by looking at the front of the label and, on average, estimated that the product contained 45 percent pure fruit juice, 40 percent higher than the actual juice content. Fewer than half of participants who additionally looked at back/side labels could correctly identify the percent juice content and, on average, estimated that the beverage contained 24 percent pure juice. For beverages that are not 100 % fruit juice there is no requirement to identify sweeteners or juice content on the front label.

“The results are striking and this study suggests that labels for 100 % fruit juice and fruit beverages or drinks are not working as intended and for many parents may result in misunderstandings and confusion when trying to choose healthful beverages for their children,” said Gail Rampersaud, registered dietitian nutritionist in the Scientific Research Department of the Florida Department of Citrus. “Consumers need more education coupled with labels that are clearer and easier to understand,” added Rampersaud.

The results suggest that lack of knowledge and clear labeling may lead parents to choose less healthy added-sugar beverages over 100 % juices, such as 100 % orange juice. The researchers suggest that the Food and Drug Administration allow label declarations that will increase transparency concerning juice percentage and sweetener content, particularly on front of package, to help consumers make healthful beverage choices.

What others consider waste, Fooditive considers a primary resource. Its new 100 % natural sweetener is produced from apple and pear leftovers, making it a chemical- and allergen-free sugar substitute. The sweetener came into fruition after founder and food scientist the Jordanian, Moayad Abushokhedim noticed that the multi-billion-dollar industry had been dominated by unhealthy sweeteners and had seldom seen change. Cue Fooditive.

Fooditive’s “mission is to develop food additives that contribute to a healthier body and a healthier environment” (Abushokhedim) with sustainability at its core. In 2019, Fooditive caught Rabobank’s attention and was awarded the Innovation Loan.

“Fooditive contributes to the European food industry by offering healthy alternatives to chemical sweeteners. Additionally, this product helps battle food waste. This fits in with our vision of Banking for Food: Rabobank wants to facilitate and support entrepreneurs in the agricultural and food industries, now and in the future to contribute to a more sustainable way of feeding the world” (Wiel Hopmans, SME account manager at Rabobank Rotterdam).

Fooditive is currently developing a range of other products in food ingredients, the specifics of which will be revealed later this year. The sweetener complies with EU organic standards, which has led to Fooditive being awarded the Skal certification meaning it can also produce an organic sweetener next to its regular one. In 2019, Fooditive have partnered with sustainable third-party production company Bodec. Allowing the zero-calorie sweetener to reach consumers through products in Dutch supermarkets. This year, it will be further distributed to various food and beverage companies across the Netherlands.

Last year, Fooditive began collaborating with Rotterdam Circulair, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing, re-using and recycling waste and whose ultimate goal is to transition from a linear to a circular economy by 2030. Fooditive plays a major role in achieving this target because its sweetener is transforming and challenging the long-standing sugar-substitute industry from a greener, healthier and more sustainable perspective.

It is not just the Netherlands that is interested in Fooditive, Sweden also wants to pear up. In October 2019, €100,065.63 was raised to set up the now registered branch in Stockholm. Future plans include expanding to the UK and Jordan. By starting production in these countries, Fooditive aims to reduce its carbon footprint and contribute to an all-round better future.