Nutraceuticals and novel foods: the new frontiers of nutrition

01 Aprile 22

In 2021, the global market for so-called “functional foods“, i.e. foods capable of acting positively on the body’s functions, was close to $500 billion. According to the research Nutraceuticals and novel foods: between health and sustainability, by Area Studi Mediobanca, the dietary food sector will lead the sector, with a turnover of approximately 213.7 billion dollars. It is followed by the food supplements segment, which last year exceeded €152 billion and could reach €237 billion by 2027. In Europe, Italy is the leader in nutraceuticals, which could reach €4.8 billion by 2025, with a large lead over Germany (€3.6 billion) and France (€3.1 billion).

The new frontiers of nutrition include, in addition to the use of dietary supplements, the use of innovative foods (such as plant-based alternatives to meat), products derived from the application of new technologies (such as synthetic meat), foods traditionally consumed outside the European Union (such as algae and edible insects), which under Regulation 2015/2283/EU have become increasingly accessible. Among the growth drivers of nutraceuticals and so-called “novel food” is certainly an increased focus on health, but also a heightened propensity for sustainable consumption.

The beginnings of nutraceutics: a discipline that comes from afar

The term nutraceutics, which combines the words ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceuticals’, was coined in 1989 by Stephen de Felice, founder of the non-profit organisation FIM – The Foundation for Innovation in Medicine. This neologism refers to the science of studying the components or active ingredients of foods that can act positively on the body’s functions, with beneficial effects on health. Although it has only been codified since the second half of the 1980s, this discipline has roots going back thousands of years. The Sumerians, Egyptians, ancient peoples of India, China and Japan had already developed the belief that certain foods could be used to prevent and combat illness. According to Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical practice, certain foods can be used to balance vital energies and achieve a state of well-being, creating harmony between mind, body and spirit.

Functional nutrition

Nutraceuticals are substances with proven physiological functions or biological activities. They can be taken through foods naturally rich in active ingredients, enriched or fortified foods, in which a substance not originally present in the food is added or its concentration is enhanced. As a complement to the ordinary diet, they can also be taken in the form of food supplements, available in tablets, capsules, ampoules or soluble powders.

The concept of ‘functional nutrition‘ first appeared in the article Japan explores the boundary between food and medicine, published in 1993 in the journal Nature. It was in Japan that an increase in the average age of the population was observed from the mid-1980s onwards, due to the beneficial effects of a diet based on a large consumption of fish and rice.  Having obtained further scientific evidence, in 1991 the Japanese welfare authorities regulated the production and trade of fish and rice, introducing specific labelling for foods proven to have a positive effect on certain body functions, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.

Nutraceutics today: modern applications and future prospects

According to a report by Area Studi Mediobanca, published in January 2022, the functional food sector is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6.9%, which could take it to $745 billion by 2027. Several factors are contributing to the market’s expansion. First of all, the increase in the number of people in the older age groups, which leads to an increase in healthcare costs and, consequently, in actions aimed at preventing diseases typical of the third age (cardiovascular diseases, eyesight disorders, osteoporosis, etc.). Secondly, the spread of hyper-lipidic and high-calorie diets, which create widespread overweight and obesity. Poor attention to the variety and quality of food is also said to be the cause of a widespread lack of essential nutrients, which are reintroduced through the use of food supplements. Another factor that should not be overlooked is the pandemic emergency, which has led to a surge in demand for foods and supplements to boost the immune system.

Another factor driving interest in new forms of food is the idea of ethical and sustainable consumption, capable of curbing phenomena such as intensive farming, cruel butchering, the emission of greenhouse gases and the depletion of natural resources. It is no coincidence that the novel food market offers numerous alternatives to meat and animal by-products: from vegetable proteins to proteins obtained by fermentation processes; from laboratory meat to entomophagy, i.e. insect feeding.

Safety and health protection

In recent years, nutraceuticals have established themselves as a Made in Italy excellence, which focuses on the quality of raw materials, the effectiveness of active ingredients, and the relationship between tradition and innovation. Today, food supplements are an important ally in the diet, and if used correctly they can be an excellent tool for prevention and defence of the body. Guaranteeing product integrity is essential to respond to new market demands, to protect consumer safety and to consolidate its reputation in a sector with strong margins for expansion.

Tecnomaco has some of the most innovative primary and secondary packaging solutions available to ensure efficiency, quality and sustainability throughout the nutraceutical production chain.