Consumer awareness on the benefits of functional foods is as high as ever. This gives rise to many opportunities.
Food with function
Although it feels as if functional foods have been in the marketplace for years it was only 1998 that spreads containing plant sterol esters became available in the market. These spreads claimed, and could clinically show, they were able to lower cholesterol by 12%. As consumer awareness on the benefits of functional foods has grown over the past twenty years, many shoppers have shown they want regular food that confers some health benefit, seems natural, is easy to understand, and relates to their own needs.
Consumers fall into several categories when purchasing food with function, and purchase of pet food should not be seen differently. Research on consumer motives of individuals for choosing functional foods has identified the following:
- Functional components are significantly more important for women than for men.
- It was shown that gender, age, and education show a preference for which type of food the functional food is incorporated into e.g. young men prefer meat products in the role of functional carriers; women and older men prefer cereal based products.
- Young consumers are more open to high-technology food processing.
- Young men, as opposed to women and older men, attach less importance to functional and psychological consequences: improvement of health, healthy eating, conscious choice, and health promotion.
- Women and older men are more interested in health safety and are more responsible for their health.
- Women, older people (35-60 years), and those with university education attach the greatest importance to naturalness, nutritional value, freshness, food safety, and quality guarantee.
Over the past twenty years, functional food products have moved in and out of fashion and some products that were considered as ‘bad’ are now seen as ‘good for you’ e.g. butter. It is no wonder the market has become fragmented coupled with consumer perceptions as indicated in the previous paragraph. However, for the product developers, this fragmentation has given rise to many opportunities.
Many consumers believe they have unique dietary needs and personalization of products is gaining in popularity. This personalization of dietary needs does have a scientific foundation as more becomes known of the microbiome. The gut of the dog or cat contains a variety of bacteria and collectively these bacteria are known as the microbiome. These bacteria metabolize food components within the diet producing a marked effect on the health status of the pet. Therefore, developing functional food products requires an understanding of their impact upon the microbiome.
The diagram below shows interactions between functional food and the microbiome.
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