In 2003, sales of functional foods and drinks were estimated to be over six times the value of those in 1998 - figures that pave the way for food manufactuers to take up the challenge of new product development in this market segment.
"On the whole, Mintel's research appears extremely positive for suppliers of functional food and drink products," said Amanda Lintott, a consumer analyst at Mintel.
A greater proportion of the population paying attention to what they are eating and drinking suggests that they may be receptive to products that could have a beneficial impact on their health beyond the basic nutritional value of a certain food or drink, she added.
Areas for food makers to focus on will be the top three health concerns: heart disease, breast cancer and lung cancer. According to the Mintel research on 1000 particpants, over four in ten Britons are concerned about heart disease while the same number of women are concerned about breast cancer. Lung cancer is in third place, but 31 per cent of adults are worried about prostrate cancer and a further 26 per cent about colon cancer.
Mintel writes that some 37 per cent of adults never buy functional food and drink, this infers that 63 per cent ofconsumers have bought such products in the past.
Educating the consumer about the benefits of functional food and drink products is inevitable as the report reveals that a significant one in four adults simply do not believe the health claims made by manufacturers, while the same proportion would buy them if convinced of their benefits.
"The fact that one in four respondents simply do not believe the health claims made by manufacturers is indicative of the cynicism that currently exists in this market," added the Mintel analyst.
A rigorous system to ensure that there is sufficient scientific evidence to substantiate each health claim - currently the focus of much discussion at the European Commission - is crucial for the credibility of functional food and drink products.
Lintott said :"While self-regulation in the functional foods market is now up and running in the UK, adoption of an EU-wide system of regulation will ensure a harmonised approach across the whole of Europe. This is key for the success of companies operating in the wider EU market."
In terms of specific products, the lack of success, says Mintel, for functional cereal bars,including Benecol Bars and Marks & Spencer & More bars, is in line with recent trends in snacking, which suggest a move towards beverages in preference to foods.
Health-conscious but time-poor consumers are looking for quick-and-easy solutions to their health demands. Drinks are quick and easy to consume, and more convenient than chewing food when in a hurry.
"This suggests excellent opportunities for nutritious beverages, as highlighted by growth in the smoothies and the probiotics markets.
The future looks positive for more products that offer ease and convenience, and make little fuss out of ingesting the health benefit they offer," concluded Lintott.