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Much is being said about vitamin K at present as consumers gain a greater understanding of this lesser-known vitamin and its potential role in heart and bone health. Although initial interest has been centred on speciality health products such as supplements, meal replacements and medical nutrition, could there also be opportunities for this vitamin in the fortified/functional food and drinks arena?
The indications from the supplements market are certainly positive for vitamin K. Although Euromonitor does not collate specific data on vitamin K supplements, it is believed to be a driving force behind the strong performance of the ‘other single vitamins’ category. In OTC healthcare, this category is outpacing all other vitamin supplements with the exception of vitamin D, but the strength of vitamin D is in itself a good sign for vitamin K as the two vitamins both tap into concerns associated with ageing: vitamin D is consumed mainly for bone health, while vitamin K is said to offer both bone and heart health benefits.
The EFSA’s review of health claims approved two key claims attached to vitamin K: ‘Vitamin K contributes to the maintenance of normal bone’ and ‘Vitamin K contributes to normal blood coagulation’. The tighter regulation of health claims can affect manufacturers’ decisions as to whether or not to use certain ingredients in fortified or functional foods so approved claims of this kind provide important backing to vitamin K’s potential in finished food and drink applications.
But despite all these positive signs, can vitamin K really make a mark in fortified/functional products? Certainly, establishing itself in bone or heart health foods could well be something of a challenge. In 2013, global sales of bone and joint health food and drinks are expected to be worth US$12.8 billion, while products positioned for cardiovascular health will be valued at US$7.1 billion, and together they represent around 2-3% of the total health and wellness market worldwide. There has been some fluctuation in both of these areas over the past 5 years, however, and although both categories support some strong mainstream brands (particularly in dairy markets), household penetration is still relatively restricted and centred on consumers with specific concerns about these health issues.
Instead, vitamin K is most likely to succeed in less targeted categories. In general, some of the best growth in the health and wellness arena at present is being shown by naturally healthy foods and products with a more everyday wellness positioning and it is likely that vitamin K can carve a place for itself alongside the other more common vitamins as a way to add value to such products.
Vitamin K is already being used as an ingredient in a range of finished food and drink categories, including infant foods, pet foods and meal replacers, while it has also featured in energy and nutrition bars. In more recent NPD, however, it has also started to appear in more mainstream food and drinks, usually in combination with a blend of other vitamins to give a generally healthier feel. For example, in the US, Bolthouse Farms’ Multi-V Goodness fruit juice smoothie contains vitamin K as part of a 12-vitamin blend, while Lactel’s Max milk drinks for children in France deliver 11 different vitamins, including K. Other foods that are commonly fortified with a mix of vitamins, such as breakfast cereals, are also likely to see growing use of vitamin K in the coming years.