“Health has been a major driver for recent new product development (NPD) in many, if not all sectors,” said Jonathan Thomas of Leatherhead Food Research, pointing to the removal of artificial additives in the confectionery category as well as the emergence of products fortified with functional ingredients such as biscuits, and yoghurt or with lower sugar levels in yoghurt. “I expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future,” he added.
For Mintel global food science analyst, Stephanie Mattucci, the trend can clearly be seen in the UK. “In the past 10 years, no low-sugar, no-sugar and reduced sugar claims have nearly doubled in the UK in products intended for children,” she said, with reduced sugar or sugar-free claims rising from 12% in 2005 to 21% in 2015.
Big or small?
But who is driving this NPD? According to a 2015 Leatherhead report entitled Children’s Food & Drinks – Global Trends & Opportunities, many of the leading children’s brands throughout the developed world belong to big multinationals.
“One of the main reasons for this is because manufacturers such as these possess the financial clout to devote sizeable budgets for marketing and advertising purposes, in order to make their products stand out in what has become a very competitive marketplace. In addition, global manufacturers of food and beverages are also better able to spend significant amounts of money reformulating and tailoring their products to address changing health concerns,” the report says.
Bearing this in mind, Thomas told FoodNavigator that start-ups and SMEs would do well to launch with healthy products to begin with in order to tap into this trend form the outset.
“Many smaller players do use health claims as a way of differentiating their products from those of their larger rivals,” he added.
'Junk food' is still king
But although companies are waking up to demands for healthy children’s food, the category is still massively dominated by ‘junk food’, and this healthy NPD is happening within traditionally unhealthy categories.
Leatherhead data shows the categories which saw the biggest number of new product launches globally last year, were confectionery, biscuits, cereals, soft drinks, savoury snack cakes and flavoured milks. Confectionery led the way with more than double the number of product launches (1,511) than biscuits, which came in second place with 732 launches.
The use of nutritional claims in children’s food also varies greatly between countries. Nearly one fifth (19%) of children’s food product in the US made a wholegrain claim between 2012 and 2015, compared with only 5% in Mexico for the same period, according to Mintel data.
Mattucci attributed this drive towards to healthiness to the work of campaigners, such as Action on Sugar. “Health officials estimate that if a 20 to 30% reduction of added sugar is achieved across the food industry, it could have serious implications in taking control of the obesity epidemic,” she said.