The health and wellness trend in foods has moved well beyond the niche sector to become a major driving force in mainstream foods, according to Chr Hanson, but a recent survey showed that a quarter of companies are missing out for want of a strategy.
"Health and wellness is fast becoming an established product category rather than a niche market dominated by products for small, committed groups," said the company, after analysing the results of the May survey.
Ninety-six per cent of the 108 research scientists, sales managers, food technologists and other industry professions who responded said they see health and wellness as either 'very important' or 'above average importance'.
Sixty eight per cent said they have already launched health and wellness products or plan to do so in 2006, but around a quarter said they are not sure how to go about it.
And while they waver without concrete plans, Chr Hanson said they "remain sidelined".
Global sales of functional foods and beverages increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2004 to be worth $68 billion (€56 billion), according to a report published by Euromonitor International at the beginning of this year. Global sales of 'better for you' foods reached almost $129 billion (€106 billion) in 2004.
On the basis of the report, the market researcher said that "research suggests that the sector would seem a logical choice for manufacturer investment".
Some industry commentators have said that 2004 was the 'tipping point', when health and wellness ceased to be a trend and became an indelible consideration for new product developers and marketers.
Indeed, once consumers have become aware of the benefits of healthier eating, it is hard to imaging them turning their back on them and returning to their oblivious ways of old.
Journalists from Decision News Media (owner of NutraIngredients.com) who attended last week's IFT show in Orlando reported back that health and wellness was ubiquitous on the show floor, which a large proportion of exhibitors eager to communicate how they have made their products healthier.
Unlike in previous years, however, health was not one of the major focus areas of the co-located conference. The indication is that healthy strategy has moved beyond theory and into practice across the food industry as a whole.
When asked what they thought were the most important factors for successful products, opinion amongst the survey respondents was split between authorised health claims, marketing, scientific documentation, and taste.
According to Chr Hanson's industry manager for food and beverage, this is no surprise since, "the right strategy is likely to be a mix".
It also seems as though the market for products intended specifically to meet the needs of women is about to hot up; 37 per cent of respondents said women made up the demographic group with the biggest potential for health and wellness products.
Somewhat surprisingly given the attention given to the health preoccupation of the baby boom generation, the ageing population came in second place, with 24 per cent saying it is the group with the biggest potential.
Nineteen per cent said children, and 11 per cent said men.