Naturalness, health and superfoods

Published on 28 September 2017 Read 25 min

Naturalness and health are becoming increasingly important in consumers’ eating habits. Alcimed, a consulting company specializing in innovation and the development of new markets, highlights the related challenges and prospects for the agri-food industry.

Paris, September 28, 2017 – The impact of food on health is an important issue for consumers, who are looking for products that are not only natural but can also have beneficial effects on their health. Manufacturers aim to meet this requirement by launching “wellbeing” products, marketed as “detox”, “antioxidant” or “anti-stress” and sold in drugstores or supermarkets.

Examples of products launched in supermarkets and/or drugstores:

These new demands drive innovation not only in terms of formulation but also in terms of communication with consumers while remaining within the strict framework of EFSA.

Consumers in search of food naturalness and health benefits

The trend towards food naturalness can be observed in the rising consumption of organic products (+20% of turnover in 2016), which reflects the search for less processed foods.

The search for organic products is most often combined with health issues, illustrated by the emergence of demands for a “clean label” or “free from”. Emerging food preferences are shifting towards the least processed products, those called “traditional” or with the fewest ingredients (gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, etc.), which are considered less harmful.

Beyond the requirement of no adverse health impacts, consumers are also looking for beneficial outcomes. The contribution to the “wellbeing” in food is reflected in particular in the themes of detox, quality of sleep, stress management, toning or, more broadly, the beneficial effects of antioxidants.

Superfoods bring new perspectives for innovation

In the wave of nutritionally beneficial foods, superfoods are becoming more and more popular with consumers and manufacturers. The latter can capitalize on their naturally rich composition in essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.) to claim benefits without having to add vitamins and minerals.

These foods include super-fruits (pomegranate, goji berry), super-vegetables (kale, beetroot), super-cereals (chia, quinoa), and microalgae (spirulina, chlorella). Some were traditionally used for their medicinal virtues, such as super mushrooms (maitake and shiitake, used in traditional Chinese medicine).

In addition to innovations in raw materials, new forms are being developed for these foods with “super-promises”, such as seeds and drinks.

It should be noted that innovations are originating not only in human nutrition, but are also leading to developments in other sectors such as cosmetics (Japanese corn cream, goji berry smoothing care) or pet food (chia seeds, split peas, etc.).

In the agri-food sector, the integration of superfoods into new formulations presents two main challenges for manufacturers, related to the supply chain and communication strategies.

Supply chain management

Most super-fruits are exotic fruits posing new challenges in terms of supply chain management.

First of all, the challenge regarding the reliability and security of supply, since sourcing is often carried out in exotic countries and by small producers. It is therefore sometimes complex to ensure production at industrial-scale volumes and guarantee continuous supply, which can jeopardize the optimal operation of the manufacturing equipment.

Sourcing from exotic countries can also lead to traceability challenges, as ingredients pass through several countries and via several intermediaries. This entails the need for verification, at the end of the process, not only of the composition but also of the production characteristics, especially in case of organic certifications.

Additionally, the price of the raw materials, already generally quite high, can easily fluctuate, increasing the final production cost, which should not significantly impact the consumer, whose purchasing power remains stable. Finally, procurement from exotic countries can raise environmental concerns. The transport of raw materials to processing plants generally located in Europe is not carbon neutral. Therefore, a question of value may arise for consumers, for whom naturalness often reflects a global ecological approach.

The communication challenge

The idea of wellbeing is closely linked to health issues on which communication is strictly controlled. For a health claim to be valid, it must be approved by the European Commission, which may be done in two ways:

-The use of nutrition and health claims established by the EFSA[1] (exclusive to vitamins and minerals)
-The delivery of a dossier, consisting of solid scientific evidence (animal studies and clinical studies meeting EFSA’s quality criteria).

This process can be not only very long and costly but also unpredictable for manufacturers. Many claims on the health benefits of certain ingredients have been rejected by EFSA due to insufficient scientific evidence in humans. The validation of the pending files on “superfoods” is therefore far from certain.

As a result, communication is more often focused on the nutritional composition of a product (rich in vitamins and minerals) that can inform the consumer about the potential health effects associated with it. Focusing on the composition of superfoods appears to be a promising alternative to meet health and naturalness requirements while opening up consumer communication opportunities.


[1] European Commission. (2012). Commission Regulation (EU) No 432/2012 of 16 May 2012. establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to childrens development and health. Off. J. Eur. Union, 50, 1-40.


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