Forthcoming European legislation on health claims could pose a roadblock to rapid market expansion of polyphenols, the plant-based antioxidants gaining increasing attention for their disease-fighting actions, warns a new report.
Polyphenols were traditionally employed as natural food colouring agents but a number of new studies have recently found potent antioxidative properties in polyphenol extracts, prompting the food industry to market them as functional ingredients.
However Frost & Sullivan food programme manager Anna Ibbotson, author of the new report, said: "Although stricter regulations, currently under draft circulation in Europe, will provide clear guidelines to the industry participants, they could force manufacturers to run costly clinical trials and submit extensive product dossiers."
"This will enhance the competitive position of those companies that can afford such trials, but companies without sufficient research resources may experience a reduction in marketing opportunities if they are no longer able to claim the health benefits of their products."
The European Commission's proposal for a regulation of health claims, published in July last year, has met with concern from a number of food industry members. The European Health Products Manufacturers (EHPM) believe that amendments to the law, including greater flexibility on labelling to allow food and supplement producers to explain the contribution of their products to health, are needed before the draft goes to the European Parliament. It is expected to enter into force by 2005.
Growth in polyphenols will however be sustained by Europe's ageing population, seeking antioxidants and other ingredients with anti-ageing properties. Research on polyphenols appears to show strong evidence that they protect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases, anti-inflammatory activity and better immune function.
Frost & Sullivan estimates revenues for the overall European polyphenols market in 2003 at $99 million (€77.88m), with antioxidant properties set to position green tea flavonoids, red fruit anthocyanins, grape polyphenols and olive polyphenols at the head of market expansion.
The market will also benefit from the consumer trend for 'cleaner' and 'safer' foods, with polyphenols increasingly replacing synthetic colours and likely to become popular in new product formulations or as replacements for other synthetic ingredients.
Beverages are likely to represent over half of end-product applications in 2003, with polyphenols being used both as colouring agents and as functional additives. Other food applications covering dairy products, confectionery, bakery and cereals are likely to account for 40 per cent of the market, suggests the report. The share of polyphenol extracts used to produce fortified foods is also expected to increase over time.
As with all emerging functional food ingredients however, the industry needs to educate consumers on the health benefits of polyphenols to guarantee sales of their end applications, advises Ibbotson.This is particularly relevant for the fledgling dietary supplements segment, where health claims are currently prohibited.
And companies are also facing the intensifying competition and severe price erosion caused by non-European manufacturers entering the market.
"As new competitors enter, it is important for existing market participants to upgrade their competitive position from price-driven to quality-driven competition," warns Ibbotson.
For more information on this report, 'European Polyphenols Market', contact Noel Anderson at Frost & Sullivan.