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Traditional categories are converging, and foods and nutritional supplements are merging, as companies become savvier about the role of functional foods in easing global health problems.

In recent years we’ve seen the rise of probiotic yoghurt, omega-3 fortified bread, and cholesterol-lowering products such as margarine and Weet-Bix cereal.

Here is a taste of just some of the activity currently taking place in the functional space.

Clever confectionery
A range of new products are underway in the confectionery counter including vitamin chewing gum from vitamin drinks brand, Get More Vitamin Drinks, and algae chocolate from Dutch start-up The Algae Factory (pictured), which fuses extra-dark chocolate with spirulina, a microalgae that has been consumed for centuries for its high nutritional value.

Manuka tea for inflammation
The New Zealand-based Manuka Group is continuing its move into the beverage space with the creation of a new manuka tea range, which is based on the oil of the manuka tree. The teas range includes green team, matcha and hoji versions for the Japanese market.

Beverages for immunity
Australian biotechnology firm Marinova is targeting the functional beverage market with its fucoidan extracts after achieving EU Novel Foods approval for the ingredient, which is extracted from the cell walls of seaweed. The ingredient, Fucorich, has been developed especially for functional food and beverage applications, and it preserves the natural structure and bioactivity of the extract and has been shown to have immunity boosting, digestive and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Tomatoes for flow
The global organisation the Tomato Foundation is chasing a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) health claim that tomato paste and other tomato products offer improved blood flow, based on an existing health claim for a tomato supplement that was awarded in 2009. For EFSA validation, a product study must demonstrate consistent and sufficient levels of bioactives in tomato paste and consumer products. If successful, only project consortium companies will be able to use this health claim on their products.

Functional fungus
Mushrooms have emerged as having untapped potential in functional foods, thanks to their beta-glucans which have a range of positive health effects, including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-parasitic properties, which could lead to new functional foods, especially in light of their high fibre and high umami properties.

Vegan vitamins
As the personalisation trend builds, micronutrient premix maker SternVitamin has created products with this in mind, including a premix for vegans which improves the nutrition profile of people who eat only plant-derived foods. Along with vitamins B12, B2 and D, it provides the appropriate amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and selenium. It also contains the amino acid lysin, which occurs in only small amounts in plants.