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Functional Foods: Nutritious, Delicious and Peaking in Popularity

Functional Foods: Nutritious, Delicious and Peaking in Popularity


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Functional Foods: Nutritious, Delicious and Peaking in Popularity

4 May 2022

Jack Payne
An assortment of functional foods.

The term “functional” has quickly been accepted as part of our vocabulary for describing certain kinds of food and beverage products. To some, it’s merely a buzzword tossed around by marketing departments, but to others, it signifies that the item in question is distinct, premium and—above all—beneficial for one’s health.

Whether you fall in one camp, the other or somewhere in-between, we all must recognize the growing popularity of these offerings. The statistics clearly demonstrate this trend—a 2020 Hartman Group study found that 29% of consumers were actively consuming more functional foods and beverages, and separate research by Mintel indicated that 70% of consumers are currently using products that feature a functional benefit.

It’s clear from all the discourse on the subject that this emergent product category warrants further discussion and exploration. But how do we actually define the designation? What’s behind the meteoric rise of the functional foods? And how are today’s food and beverage production businesses finding success in the segment?

In this post, we’ll answer all of those questions and more—plus give a brief explanation of how purpose-built technology can help your company get in on the action.

The Definition of Functional Food and What’s Driving Demand

Let’s start with the basics—what are functional foods? Some experts would say that such items are any that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond providing nutrition, as laid out by the Japanese government in the 1980s. Others consider only those products that include supplements or special ingredients that enhance their beneficial effects to be functional foods.

Further complicating the matter, the terms “nutraceutical,” “designer food,” “vitafood” and “pharmafood” are sometimes used interchangeably with “functional food.” Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has shied away from clearly delineating foods that are functional from those that aren’t—but that certainly hasn’t stemmed shoppers’ appetites for them.

All that said, for the purposes of this piece you should consider any item that purports to be functional (or “fortified” with vitamins and minerals) as part of the category. That at least makes it easier to talk about these products and identify them in grocery stores and dishes served at restaurants.

As for the factors that have contributed to the growing prominence of the segment, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an increased focus on public health, and with that has come increased desire for better immune support, sleep and daily nutritional needs. The increasing buying power of more health-conscious millennial and Generation Z shoppers has also had a bolstering effect.


of consumers are currently using products that feature a functional benefit

Popular Ingredients, Products and Brands

A wide variety of bioactive compounds are frequently incorporated in functional foods, including dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, phytoestrogens, natural antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics and carotenoids. The benefits these components offer make for an equally diverse list, with constipation relief, blood pressure control and decreased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease among those commonly cited.

Product varieties that are frequently associated with the “functional” label—like fish, yogurt, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and mushrooms—are all typically considered healthy even in the absence of any claims of their special properties or additional ingredients. But many such items, as well as plenty from other sectors, are being enhanced and marketed as functional with great success.

Take, for example, Chobani’s Complete and Probiotic lines of yogurt and drinks, which pack in protein and bacteria critical for good gut health with no added sugar. Garden Lites Superfood Veggie Cakes also fit the bill, and they’re marketed as a convenient breakfast, snack or side dish option, suiting consumers’ need for versatility in the products they purchase.

For more “food for thought,” there’s Good Source Snacks and their suite of protein cluster bars and snack mixes, which tout benefits for cognitive performance, memory and concentration, among others. Finally, look to South Mill Champs and their SHROOMS lineup for their creative takes on mushroom-based crisps, jerkies and coffees.

How Technology Facilitates Functional Food Formulation

At this point, you may be wondering how your organization can best capitalize on the functional foods craze, either by incorporating health-boosting ingredients in new versions of your existing items or developing entirely new offerings based on the concept. But before you turn your research and development team loose, carefully consider whether you’re truly set up for success in this arena.

You’ll potentially be working with new suppliers and clients, so you’re going to need complete supply chain visibility and a highly configurable backend to make sure that materials and information flow smoothly from one part to the next. You’re also going to need robust recipe and formula management features so that your folks in R&D feel empowered to experiment and iterate until they’ve got the ideal functional food product.

For an all-in-one solution that satisfies the above requirements and so many more, businesses like yours are turning to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with increasing frequency. In fact, these platforms are now considered as essential as the physical facilities in which production occurs—they’re indispensable in efforts to maintain the traceability and food safety standards that are required by government agencies, and they also drive better efficiency and profitability with advanced analytics.

At Aptean, we’re considered leaders in the food ERP space, as evidenced by our recent recognition from Frost and Sullivan. We also built our software on the framework of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, so your employees should love the streamlined integrations and user-friendly interface that come with Aptean Food & Beverage ERP out of the box.

If you want to hear more about Aptean and how our solution for food and beverage companies can help you break into the functional food market, contact us today. We’re also happy to schedule a personalized demo to show you the system in action.

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Sandwich stacked with toppings.