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Functional food in the European Union

  • Authors: Alexander J. Stein and Emilio Rodríguez-Cerezo (Editors)
  • EUR Number: 23380 EN
  • Publication date: 8/2008


Functional food (FuFo) is defined as food that is taken as part of the usual diet and has beneficial effects that go beyond nutritional effects. Currently functionality is created during the industrial processing of food through the addition of bioactive ingredients. FuFo is gaining increasing market shares and the health claims made on food have recently been regulated at the EU level. Hence it is pertinent to analyse this market and its likely future development. It is also important to understand consumer attitudes and the cost-effectiveness of this approach. There is considerable uncertainty regarding the market size of FuFo. Estimates of the global market fall into a range of EUR 25-60 billion; a recent lower-bound estimate indicated a size of EUR 6.4 billion for the EU market. Dairy products and beverages have the biggest market share – followed by cereals only as a distant third. In terms of bioactive ingredients, probiotic bacteria cultures clearly dominate, followed by prebiotics. On the demand side a survey in four EU Member States showed that many grocery shoppers were not familiar with the term "functional food", although, when given examples, most of them had already bought FuFo. Better nutrition knowledge was correlated with a more positive attitude towards FuFo, and female, younger and richer respondents were more likely to buy it. The surveyed customers want FuFo to help them stay healthy and well, but taste and the general food quality was also important. Regarding research in the field of FuFo, the output of public and private entities within the EU – measured by scientific publications – is larger than that of the USA or of Japan. One policy-relevant field that has so far received little attention in research is the cost-effectiveness of FuFo as public health intervention. Yet, tentative comparisons with similar approaches suggest that food-based approaches may offer a cost-effective way of addressing health problems.

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