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Meeting consumers’ needs with science-backed products

Article-Meeting consumers’ needs with science-backed products

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The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified consumers' search for healthy products and functional foods; science provides new leads regarding how ingredients can affect specific physiological processes; and new technologies enable the production of ingredients with enhanced characteristics. Exciting new opportunities are rising, and companies want to share them with their consumers. What is the role of clinical trials in all of this? Is it worth investing in such tests? And what is the best way to do so?

The global functional foods and beverages market is predicted to grow by about 50% over the next five years. This was already the case pre-COVID-19, but it has become increasingly clear that healthy diets and lifestyle are important in supporting consumers' overall health and improving their wellbeing resilience. Since last year, there has been a surging interest in foods and lifestyle changes that positively impact consumers' immune system, body weight, mental health, and general wellbeing. At the same time, calls for sustainability have further stimulated the nutraceutical industry to search for new ingredients from side streams, utilising innovative and, often, milder processing methods that might affect the health functionality of ingredients.  

Sound scientific support of ingredients' health benefits is required by regulatory bodies and is essential to build upon and maintain consumers' trust—clinical trials are a key component of this approach. By testing food and beverage ingredients on healthy volunteers, we can assess proof of concept, gain insight on its impact, collect evidence of any health benefits, characterise ingredients' effects, and provide measurable outcomes to meet regulatory requirements.

Surveys indicate that products with health claims positively influence consumers choices. Moreover, consumers want to be convinced of the ingredients' added value over competitieve offerings. However, budget costs associated with performing clinical trials are substantial, so how can you maximise your chances of succeeding? What are the crucial elements to consider when designing food-related clinical trials that will allow you to draw valid conclusions from them? What is an acceptable study population, and what is not? Testing of foods raises some significant and unique challenges.  

In food trials, we are not looking to cure or treat a health condition. Instead, we seek to evaluate how ingredients can help prevent or mitigate symptoms or enhance performance. That means the nutraceutical industry needs to conduct trials on relatively healthy individuals, who are perhaps less likely to show a strong response to food interventions.  

What are the relevant outcome measures about specific health benefits? How to consider the volunteers' diets, which could impact the study's results? These are some of the topics we will address in the roundtable session. Another issue that merits some thought is: how is the data from clinical studies best shared with the outside world? And in what stage?

I will cover these questions at a roundtable discussion in the Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo on Tuesday, 11 May 2021, at 14:30 BST. I invite you to join me and I look forward to exploring and discussing this exciting subject with you, hearing your views, and sharing best practices and experiences.

Learn more and register for free to attend Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo.


Alwine Kardinaal
Expertise Team leader Nutrition & Health at NIZO