Functional Foods in Spain: - an industry
By Marisa Vidal-Guevara, Research Scientist, Hero
The functional foods sector in Spain is one of the most forceful, with
sales growing from 15 to 16 per cent every year. In 2006, functional
food turned over 3500 million Euro. This peak was due to the ageing of
people, the increment of purchasing power, and the change of life styles
associated with working habits; this means that home-made food loses
ground to fast food. Decrease in cholesterol, weight loss and improved
gastrointestinal health are three of the major benefits offered by
functional foods to the Spanish consumer.
Functional food surge
The surprising peak for functional foods in Spain emerged in the 1990s.
The reasons were diverse: 1) the public are more concerned about
health and acquire foods with high added value; 2) organizations in
charge of legislating this matter realise the beneficial effects of
functional foods on public health; 3) the government is paying attention
to this sector because it anticipates the economic potential of these
products, as one of the prevention strategies in improving public health.
(biotechnology), and the scientific research which supports the health
benefits of these foods.
Experts are in agreement that these foods are not a fashion and they
have arrived to stay in the market place for the long term. In this sense,
the normative for their labelling is now highly developed; this is a
complex process because of the required scientific studies and economic
interests of food industries. Spain is in the vanguard of the functional
foods industry and, therefore, can be used as a reference point for
developments in functional foods. Functional foods commanded a 26%
share in the Spanish food market in 2007.
The traditional Spanish diet corresponded to the food standard defined
as the Mediterranean diet. Most representative foods in the Spanish diet
have been consumed for many years, e.g. vegetables, legumes, fruits, a
rich variety of fish, olive oil and red wine. The consumption of meat and
dairy products was moderate. However, in the last 30 years important
changes have been observed in the food behaviour of the population,
according to data of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fish and Food
(2001). These changes are mainly a decrease in consumption of
complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, red wine and sugar, and an
increase in fish, dairy products and meat consumption.
Speaking about nutritional paradoxes, the Spanish paradox is observed
like Greek and French. Overweight is associated with a higher mortality
and it is considered that obesity is directly responsible of 7.8% of deaths
in the European Union. Of these, 70% are a consequence of
cardiovascular diseases and 20% of cancer. In Spain, the obesity indices
have significantly increased during the last decade. However, the
mortality indices are lower in comparison with other European
populations with similar obesity levels. The dietary antioxidant
hypothesis (Spanish or Mediterranean) may be a possible explanation of
Concerning the beliefs of Spanish consumers, they have a strong belief
that the Spanish Diet is still a Mediterranean Diet, with the associated
benefits, and have not been consuming functional foods, claiming that
their diet is healthy enough for a healthy life style. However, this
argument does not stand up when viewed against a wide percentage of
the population with high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides or sugar in
blood, hypertension and obesity, which lead to diabetes and/or
cardiovascular diseases. Special dietary recommendations need to be
considered at this moment, and functional foods are now finding an
important space in the market. Consumer acceptance of such foods is
the key factor in the development of the functional food industry and
consumers must be convinced of the health benefits which functional
foods offer. The food industry must not label products without previous
validation of the beneficial effect/s, and regulatory organisations must
allow only those health claims that are duly validated. The Spanish food
industry is making a greater use, day by day, of academic resources to
evaluate and validate the beneficial effects of their products, looking for
efficient biomarkers which demonstrate the effect on organic functions,
including their role on health keeping and disease prevention, and also
cause-and-effect relationship studies to evaluate safety and dose level.
The second effort is clear and transparent communication to consumers.
Opportunities for the food industry
From an industry perspective, strong efforts are being taken to launch
new products, designed with special ingredients which could reduce the
risk of most of the important and chronic diseases observed in the
Spanish population; this also includes validating their beneficial effects.
During 2008, 38 new launches of functional foods have been carried
out---12 products with functional-digestive claims, 8 products with
functional-immune system claims, and several of them fortified with
vitamins and minerals, and low in sugar and/or calories. Of special
relevance are infant products, with 6 new launches in the last 5 months.
In this regard, the most important factor is close collaboration between
food companies and research centres, but also with public organisations
in order to offer to the consumer a choice of well designed functional
food products with proven efficacy.