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Dispensing Strategies: FUNctional Foods

FUNctional foods


May 7, 2008
By Michelle Brisebois

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"Take two Kit Kat bars and call me in the morning.”

"Take two Kit Kat bars and call me in the morning.”

The notion that candy may actually find its way onto the prescription pad isn’t that far fetched any more. We’ve traditionally looked at candy as something rather decadent – something forbidden and bad for us. If it tastes good, it can’t actually be good for you … right?

Well, not exactly. It seems while we were sleeping they put antioxidants in our chocolate, calcium in our chewing gum and our snack bars now contain more iron that a bowl of spinach.

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Functional candy is poised to grow briskly and for the vending industry it could be a huge opportunity. However, the category is one we must approach with caution. When we start adding medicinal ingredients to our treats – are we crossing a line?

There appear to be two segments for functional candy. The first falls into the “naturally good for you” category such as dark chocolate. The media is actively reporting that dark chocolate has a myriad of health benefits related to flavonoids, which are potent chemical compounds with antioxidant properties found in many plants. Flavonoids are especially rich in dark chocolate.

Honey and nuts are also enjoying positive press these days related to their natural health benefits.  The “naturally good for you” segment is a safer area to focus on. Since the beneficial ingredients are naturally found in these foods – it’s simply a matter of staying on top of the latest ingredient reports and then promoting the food in question.

The benefits are built in naturally and the risk is less because humans haven’t tampered with the formula. However, much like the Frankenstein monster was an attempt to manipulate nature – today’s functional foods may sometimes go too far.

Red Bull is a great example of a functional beverage riding waves of good and bad press. Costing around three dollars a can in Canada, Red Bull, with its extra jolt of caffeine, has become the foodaceutical of choice for the youth segment.

The CBC analyzed a can of Red Bull and reported that they found 80 mg of caffeine (more than three times the caffeine that’s in the same amount of Coke) and 1000 mg of taurine, an amino acid. That combination of Red Bull’s ingredients has created some controversy.

In the absence of long-term research on how caffeine, taurine and glucuronolactone interact in the body; many countries like France and Norway have elected not to approve it for sale. Red Bull has endured its share of bad press with some deaths attributed to its consumption – a link under considerable debate even today.

Health Canada is monitoring the product closely and states that two cans (total of 500 mL) per day is the maximum safe limit.

The energy sector has even expanded beyond beverages into other categories such as candy bars and chocolate. It’s estimated that the segment’s value in Europe and the U.S. clocks in at more than $10 billion (not including the growing markets in Japan, Thailand and other parts of the Asia-Pacific).

“Crack,” which is marketed as a candy, and “Cocaine,” which is a beverage, are two instances where the foodaceutical concept has become quite literal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration called Cocaine on the carpet last year for its name, not for its caffeine content, which is equal to 3.5 cups of coffee per can. It’s not only beverages that claim to be the panacea for all that ails you – candy has stepped in to the fray as well.

According to AC Nielson, sales in the U.S. of gum increased 23 per cent from 2002 to 2005. This increase is largely credited to gum’s new role as an effective delivery system for everything from teeth whitening to extra calcium. An innocent stick of gum now carries many other active ingredients such as antacids, caffeine and vitamins.

Nicorette gum has been actively marketed for years as a means of quelling a nicotine addiction.

Sweets like creamy fruit chews provide as much calcium as a glass of milk and vitamin C. Teddy bear-shaped lollipops help soothe a child’s sore throat, whilst gummy bear candies ensure a good night’s sleep.

Datamonitor suggests that the market for functional foods in the U.S., Western European and Asia-Pacific will grow at an average of 5.7 per cent between 2007 and 2012. The segment is currently worth $27.3 billion US.

While this is no doubt an attractive segment for our industry to dispense – it’s not without its controversy. Try to avoid caffeine-laden products in areas frequented by kids. It’s bad enough we ended up squarely in the pot because of junk food in school machines – you don’t need an irate parent going after you because there’s a jacked-up energy drink within arm’s reach of their child.

Stay close to the media coverage on these products to ensure you are familiar with any emerging issues. Functional candies could be just the tonic for vending’s business growth goals. Perhaps in the end it’s really true … a spoonful of sugar does really make the medicine go down.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in brand strategies. Michelle can be reached at briseboismichelle@sympatico.ca .


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