As the Ozempic era booms and consumers become increasingly health conscious and aware of the long-term impacts of ultra-processed foods, its a pivotal time for the food industry.
With the Wellness Industry reported to be worth a staggering $5.6 trillion in 2022 (and expected to grow to $8.5 trillion by 2027 according to the Global Wellness Institute), the landscape is teeming with opportunities for innovation, with nutrient-dense functional foods tipped to become one of the biggest industry trends for 2024 and beyond.
In advance of Future Food-Tech San Francisco this March 21-22, hear first hand insights from key decision makers prioritizing healthy and delicious solutions.
As demand for healthier products grows, how are companies across the food sector working to create more nutrition rich products, whilst still delivering on taste, texture and experience, without the calories?
The shift in consumer attitudes creates both challenges and opportunities for the industry, with food brands swivelling their focus to trends such as personalized nutrition, swapping ultra-processing for fortification, targeting gut and metabolic health, and working to produce nutrition-centric alternatives in what proves to be a very lucrative industry.
Kevin Miller, Deputy Director of Nutrition Data and Product Innovation, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION states: “Consumer interest drives product innovation, so therefore the focus of the food industry will always be to meet consumer expectations that are focused on taste, cost, convenience, and then health.” He goes on to highlight pain points for consumers, creating opportunities for the industry: “There are certain problems that consumers want help solving, including weight loss. The industry has responded with increasing numbers of nutrient dense foods that deliver ingredients to help curb cravings, such as protein and fiber, while ensuring other nutrient intakes are adequate.”
Frank Jaksch, CEO, AYANA BIO references the company’s Ultra-Processed Food Pulse Survey to demonstrate consumer curiosity around healthier processed foods, especially in younger generations: “The survey found that more than half of the adults surveyed would be more willing to include ultra-processed foods in their diets if they had better ingredient quality. CPG companies can get creative with ingredient benefits and quality, meeting this demand by focusing on sourcing high-quality nutritional ingredients.”
Ari Tulla, CEO & Founder, ELO HEALTH furthers this point, stressing that when choosing healthier options, people never want to feel like they are ‘missing out’ on their favorite foods. As such, he tells that food companies are turning their attention to enhancing the nutritional value of products on the shelves. Tulla suggests that this can be done through adding “minimally-processed ingredients and functional nutrients, like protein, fiber, or various vitamins and minerals and adaptogens.”
UNILEVER’s Johanna Vazquez, Head of R&D Nutrition, North America, shares some insight around the company’s response to changing consumer demand: “With 3.4bn people using our products every day, Unilever has a role to play. That’s why we have set ourselves a target to double the number of products sold that deliver positive nutrition globally by 2025.
We have created Positive Nutrition Standards; a framework that drives product and recipe creation, increasing ingredients and nutrients that are good for people and the planet and inspire healthy cooking. Our recently launched Ready-to Heat (RTH) Knorr Rice Cups are a great example. Consumers love the convenience of microwavable products; a fast and filling mini-meal option. Many of the existing options in the RTH aisle offer great taste and convenience but lack healthy ingredients and contain high amounts of sodium. Our Knorr cups are made with 100% real vegetables, contain 6 -7 g of protein per serving and have ~15% less sodium on average per serving vs. the leading competitor; helping make mealtime easier and healthier.”
And continued innovation around nutrient-dense functional foods could be one of the biggest trends in 2024 and beyond, Marc Washington, Founder & CEO, SUPERGUT slating the influence of Ozempic & GLP-1 drugs as a bolstering factor. Whilst innovative brands like Supergut are stepping up to meet this opportunity with product assortments and new innovations to meet this growing need, Washington believes “it’s critical for brands to not lose sight of the fact that sensory appeal still reigns supreme in consumers’ eyes, even for healthier products. The bar remains high for new product innovations that are both effective and enjoyable, so this transition to more nutrient-dense products won’t likely happen overnight.”
Ben Goodwin, CEO, Co-Founder & Formulator, OLIPOP goes on to name two primary streams of innovation occurring right now: “One is the development of non- or low- nutritive natural sweetener technologies (stevia, monk fruit, and allulose/tagatose, etc) and the other is an increase in F&B offerings with differentiated, more nutrient dense, ingredients. The sweetener innovation seems to be happening more at the ingredient supplier level and the ingredient driver seems to be more tied to the brand level. I would say I see more ingredient innovation on the food side vs the beverage side, given the formulation and cost challenges inherent to beverage.” Olipop believes its success is due to combining both of these strategies to create a product rich in secondary plant compounds and low in sugar, with the team going “to extensive lengths to not only ensure the product is extremely delicious (providing a traditional soda experience) but also research supported through our academic partnerships and research with Purdue University. We believe this should be the standard in at $300B Health and Wellness industry that charges consumers a premium for their products.”
With such focus and criticism on ultra-processed foods, to what extent are Ultra-Processed Foods an issue? And what breakthroughs with product development for improving nutritional profiles of food can help tackle this?
Ben Goodwin, OLIPOP believes consumers to be warranted in their concern around ultra-processed foods, and that these are, generally speaking, not healthy: “UPF have two primary issues 1) they often contain harmful chemicals 2) they tend to be nutritionally anemic. More nutrient rich ingredients can certainly help to alleviate the second issue but not the first. My recommendation is that formulators take the extra time to innovate their recipes to substantially reduce the quantity of harmful chemicals, or under researched chemicals, in their work.”
ELO HEALTH’s Ari Tulla shares the sentiment: “Studies show that ultra-processed foods have been linked to long-term health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. To help improve the nutritional quality of UPFs, products coming to market have started to emphasize minimally processed ingredients, as well as reducing additives, using natural colors and flavors, incorporating plant-based proteins, and promoting clean-label options.”
Johanna Vazquez, UNILEVER offers the other side of the conversation, arguing that processed foods have a positive role to play in a diet that is good for people and planet: “Processed foods deliver many benefits such as safety, long shelf life, convenience (time) and affordability. Food processing will be required to move towards a more sustainable food system to feed the world. Think of fortified bouillons to provide essential micronutrients, plant-based meat to reduce the GHG emissions from animal meat, and dried soups to prevent food waste and reduce carbon footprint.
The scientific evidence of UPF consumption and impact on health is not strong as it is built largely on observed association and not on cause-effect studies. Obesity is rising, food is more available everywhere and people consume more foods classified as UPF; that doesn’t mean UPF is causing obesity. UPFs should not be confused with fast food.”
With consumer confusion around even the definition of ultra-processed, Kevin Miller, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION sheds some light on the term: “The science on ultra-processed foods (UPF) is emerging and essentially a label to describe foods higher in added sugars, fats, and sodium. However, the UPF label doesn’t identify whether a food is nutrient dense or sustainably sourced.” Miller stresses that although the focus on continuous improvements in both nutrient density and sustainability is important, even foods categorized as UPF “may be affordable, shelf stable, easily prepared, and part of a nutritionally adequate diet. Most research is required to address the emerging questions about the impact of non-nutritive ingredients on long-term health. Is the concern about sugars, fats, and sodium warranted or are we asking the wrong questions?”
Marc Washington, SUPERGUT furthers this point, sharing that whilst its clear most ultra-hyper-processed foods lack nutritional value and are detrimental to our health, “technically speaking most packaged foods undergo some form of processing, and that includes health-promoting functional foods that are packaged in convenient formats. So I think we need to move away from labeling all UPFs as being “bad”, since healthy functional foods that are offered in convenient formats will certainly play a critical role in helping address our health epidemic, especially given our love of snacking!”
Frank Jaksch, AYANA BIO agrees, acknowledging that UPFs may be an unavoidable part of feeding the expanding population: “The reality is we need food processing methods to take the pressure off traditional agriculture to yield sustainable and nourishing ingredients for the masses.” And ultra-processing doesn’t necessarily equate to a lack of health, with so many gamechanging solutions emerging: “new technologies like Ayana Bio’s plant cell cultivation can help produce affordable healthy ingredient additives by growing plant material directly from cells and optimizing for important characteristics like high bioactive content (e.g., antioxidants), stability, and purity. These plant cell ingredients can boost nutritional content and build in health benefits when added to foods, with full traceability and a neutral taste and color.”
With the fast rise of Ozempic and other weight suppressant drugs, what are the implications for the food industry and what innovations can help address metabolic health?
It is undoubtedly early days for the so-called ‘Ozempic era’ but already it’s making headlines for its predicted impact on the food industry. And with the main use being to reduce one’s diet for weight loss, food brands are keeping a sharp eye on consumer behavior while thinking about ways to capitalize on trends.
Ari Tulla, ELO HEALTH responds that while weight loss drugs may boast a quick weight loss fix, they can overshadow the importance of a healthy lifestyle: “Because the right nutrition can serve as a long-term weight management solution, health education should be prioritized to help people make more informed choices and foster healthier relationships with whole foods. Some innovative companies have done this by providing insights into real-time glycemic response to food and personalized nutrition solutions.”
AYANA BIO’s Frank Jaksch on the other hand, anticipates that consumers who are using weight-loss drugs are serious about their health, which will be reflected in the foods they eat: “Studies have shown that people are more likely to crave healthier food options such as fruits and vegetables rather than junk food when taking these drugs. If snack-makers or fast-food chains can satisfy health-conscious consumers with more nutritious, wholesome ingredients and food options, they can piggyback off the rise of Ozempic.
Additionally, we expect that consumers will look for more products or dietary supplements that contain berberine – a bioactive found in coptis chinensis, as well as hydrastis canadensis which may support healthy blood sugar levels similar to Ozempic.”
Marc Washington, SUPERGUT is confident on the positive impact of these drugs on our diet, continuing to see the positive shift to: “more truly functional foods that promote satiety, nourish our guts, and deliver essential nutrients (most importantly protein and fiber) in convenient and affordable packaging. This includes prebiotic-rich foods that naturally boost appetite-suppressing gut hormones like GLP-1 that can help sustain or boost improvements in metabolic health. In many ways, this will result in reintroducing nutrients that are available in nature but have been largely stripped from our foods over time back into our diets. We’ll also see portion sizes shrink, and more nutritional options that help counteract the side effects of GLP-1 drugs.”
For Josh Hix, Co-Founder & CEO, SEASON HEALTH GLP-1s offer a first opportunity to turn down the ‘food noise’ and start making more conscious food choices: “So the obvious next question becomes: what should I eat? This is where true Food-as-Medicine, which integrates nutrition care from Registered Dietitians, and tools to make healthier foods the default choice, come in. In Season’s case, we run the largest Telehealth practice of RD’s, and equip them and our patients with software to make following the advice as easy as getting directions from Google Maps.”
As the importance of a healthy gut becomes more mainstream, what obstacles are there to overcome to improve solutions for the gut microbiome?
In many ways, the recent hype around Ozempic feeds in to the consumer’s understanding of gut health, Marc Washington, SUPERGUT owing the better understanding of the critical role the gut microbiome plays in overall health and disease prevention to recent advances in scientific discovery, which is being bolstered by the burgeoning Ozempic era. Despite this, Marc names education as a significant obstacle, “as most consumers don’t understand WHY gut health matters, its fundamental connection to total body health, or the most effective solutions to improve it. We also need more gut health solutions in the market with clinical validation that confer real measurable benefits on health. Another barrier is the lack of clear and broadly accessible measures to track gut health.”
The challenge of consumer understanding is also felt by OLIPOP’s Ben Goodwin: “By highlighting the positive impacts of prebiotic fibers and botanicals on the gut microbiome, we aim to empower consumers with the knowledge needed to make informed choices for their health. Breaking down barriers through education is essential to fostering a deeper appreciation for the role of gut health, ultimately paving the way for improved solutions in the realm of microbiome wellness. It is important to emphasize the need for also creating alternatives to beloved foods that not only promote health but also deliver an exceptional taste experience. We’ve also found consumers don’t necessarily want a health lecture, so it’s important to communicate the benefits of a gut-healthy product in a fun and exciting manner that doesn’t leave them feeling overwhelmed.”
Pierre-Antoine Mariage, CEO, BOTALYS notes the challenge of the gap that exists in terms of translational science: “While public awareness and scientific knowledge are advancing at a rapid pace, the transition from bench to new product appears to be a real bottleneck. It’s true that there’s a lot we don’t know about the microbiome and its influence on our health, but that’s no reason not to innovate at all. For example, one key element that deserves heightened focus is the role of phytonutrients in microbiotic health. These active compounds, naturally found in plant-based foods, are known to have a profound impact on gut microbiome. Whether it’s hydroxytyrosol from olives, chlorogenic acid from artichokes, anthocyanins from berries or even baicalin from Baikal skullcap, the number of innovation opportunities is staggering, but too many NPDs are still stuck in the “fiber-rich” approach.”
Ari Tulla, ELO HEALTH highlights the complexity of gut health as “an ever-evolving topic. We know that the microbiome plays a role in immunity, inflammation, and heart health, yet one of the biggest obstacles is identifying a personalized response to nutrition interventions. Nutrition is never a one-size-fits all, and while we have foundational knowledge, this information will continue to become more precise as clinical research evolves.”
Kevin Miller, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION echoes the sentiment, detailing personalization as a primary obstacle to achieving a healthy gut: “Consider the bacteria that colonize our gut. We can characterize the populations of bacteria in the digestive tract, but still cannot understand how changes in the profile of bacterial populations relate to the host’s overall health.” Miller calls for more scientific research on the subject: “We also have a basic understanding that provision of certain nutrients (i.e., prebiotics) in the diet often helps the more desirable bacteria compete against less desirable bacteria. Taking probiotics for health can be challenging because what is the specific, researched benefit of the bacteria being consumed? Is the probiotic being consumed in adequate amounts to colonize the gut (e.g., billions of colony forming units per dose)? Does the consumer have to continue taking the probiotic to maintain colonization? More science is needed before any real solutions can be offered.”
From policy to partnerships and funding, what needs to be implemented to better tackle health issues and achieve health equity through food?
With the United States facing an ever-growing epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases, eating the right foods is more important than ever. The FDA is prioritizing its nutrition initiatives to ensure people in the U.S. have greater access to healthier foods and nutritional information, and at its Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health on September 28, 2022, the White House released a National Strategy to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer consumers experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity and hypertension. But is this enough?
Ari Tulla, ELO HEALTH calls for systemic change: “Health equity can be achieved by addressing nutrition disparities and offering accessible healthcare, education, and nutritious food offerings. While challenging, these systemic changes can address underlying social determinants of health and improve people’s overall quality of life.”
SEASON HEALTH’s Josh Hix offers three solutions: “Access to insurance-covered RD care, access to the foods those RD’s recommend, and for those foods to be affordable”, going on to say: “The insurance landscape is fragmented, but one of the key initiatives today is the Medical Nutrition Therapy Act, which would expand RD coverage for millions of Americans. To make food more affordable, we really believe that the ultimate goal is for Food-as-Medicine to be delivered through Value-Based Care. These models align everyone’s incentives, from insurance companies to clinicians to patients, around making the patient healthier – and covering food along the way. And the good news on access to food is that innovation in delivery and ordering have exploded in recent years, meaning you can have fresh, high-quality groceries delivered to 98% of the zip codes in the US today, and prepared meals delivered to 100%.”
Marc Washington, SUPERGUT believes the food-as-medicine movement will benefit from policies and incentives that make functional foods more broadly accessible, perhaps via some form of subsidies or even broader reimbursement: “Health-promoting functional foods are typically formulated with higher-quality, more expensive ingredients vs. traditional packaged foods which often lack nutritional value and have been engineered to be cheaper, plentiful, and addictive. Policies that level the playing field on cost will help healthy functional foods become significantly more accessible across populations. It is also incumbent upon food brands to not only produce efficacious and enjoyable products, but to be intentional in appealing to populations from diverse backgrounds, in order to most effectively address health disparities.”
Ben Goodwin, OLIPOP stresses that there is still a lot to be done to tackle these issues, detailing that a multi-faceted approach is essential: “Policies should encourage innovation in ingredients; strategic partnerships can foster knowledge exchange and create synergies for impactful solutions. Additionally, increased funding for research initiatives can drive scientific advancements. OLIPOP remains committed to playing a role in this holistic approach, contributing not only delicious and nutritious products but also advocating for systemic changes that promote health equity through accessible, high-quality food options. Ultimately, it’s my opinion that we have a mass scale behavior change needed in relation to our food system, and that will be nearly impossible to accomplish without commercialized products that replace the current unhealthy and often addictive options.”
Join these leading health & nutrition experts and many more in San Francisco this March 21-22, where you will have the opportunity to sit front row for insights on topics ranging from Designing Healthier Products That Deliver on Taste & Indulgence and Creating Nutrition-Centric Foods through Fortification and Bioactives to Diversifying the Food System with Novel Foods and Navigating Health Challenges with Personalized Nutrition. Network with them and talk through topics more personally in the small group roundtable discussions and breakout sessions.
Be quick – the Early Bird rate expires in just one week on January 25, and this is your last chance to save $500 on your summit pass: www.futurefoodtechsf.com/register