Functional bakery products trail behind beverages and dairy in terms of the global functional food market but in one European market - Germany - functional bread is showing good growth, according to market analysts Euromonitor.
Functional bakery products account for less than 3 per cent of functional food sales in Western Europe, far behind the booming health beverages (59 per cent of global functional food sales in 2003) and functional dairy products, which accounted for just over 23 per cent of sales.
Unlike the drinks and dairy sectors, there has been less innovation within bakery products and snacks, compounded by lower consumer acceptance, as consumers struggle to associate products such as confectionery and biscuits with healthy eating, notes the market research group.
In the UK, a major European market for functional foods, bakery products and snacks remain under-developed, with bread poised for decline rather than growth following the de-listing of V-Force from British Bakeries and less than fantastic sales for other brands such as Good Health Loaf and Burgen, claims Euromonitor.
But while UK consumers are not yet ready to purchase staple foods with novel, health ingredients, in Germany, another key market for functional products, functional fresh bread has seen good growth rates since 1998.
While functional bread is expected to remain stagnant at best in the UK, growth prospects are significantly better in Germany, where consumers appear to be less cynical towards products, which make strong claims as to their health properties.
Wholemeal bread is very common in Germany and Germans are well aware of the benefits of high fibre for digestion and intestinal health, giving functional bakery products a good start.
After an unsuccessful attempt to launch functional products in the early 1990s, German firm Kampffmeyer had since introduced an omega-3 bread in 1998 and during the BSE crisis launched its Kornsteak-Brot (wheat-steak-bread) for consumers who no longer wanted to eat meat.
It has added Calcius D3 bread, which is aimed at consumers lacking in calcium and D3, and Cult-1 bread, promoting intestinal health and digestion as well as enforcing the immune system.
As a result, Euromonitor expects functional bread in Germany to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15 per cent between 2003 and 2008, compared to a CAGR of minus 1 per cent over the same period for total bread.
But it notes that even in Germany where functional bread has so far performed best, it only accounts for a tiny proportion of total per capita bread consumption: with 100g of functional bread being consumed per capita compared to just under 58kg for total bread in 2003. By 2008, Euromonitor forecasts per capita consumption of functional bread to reach just over 200g, compared to 57.5kg per capita for total bread.
And while functional bread in theory shows good potential, as it is generally regarded as a healthy product, product failures have proved to be rife, especially where marketing efforts to communicate the health benefits have been only minimal.
Innovation has been high however, as given low profits on basic breads, many bakeries are working to differentiate and add value to their products.
Indeed, the development of functional breads is a tiny offshoot of this trend that is principally illustrated by exoticism, use of different cereals and experimentation with herbs and other flavourings.
So far, premium 'exotic' breads have fared significantly better than functional bread, however with continuing innovation, coupled with stronger and more effective marketing support, functional bread could possibly step out of its current niche, predict the analysts.