These days our supermarket shelves are filled with more and more so-called “functional foods” foods with special health-promoting properties. These products often represent a “high-tech” product line, in the twilight zone between food and medicine. Agricultural researcher Cecilia Mark-Herbert from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, has now studied the market for these products. Her doctoral dissertation shows that developing these foods requires not only new products, but also new know-how, new processes, new companies, new ways of marketing products, and a new management perspective.
During the 1990s “functional foods” became a more and more common term referring to food products that are associated with health. Synonymous terms, such as “value-added foods”, “designer foods,” and “nutraceuticals” all express a value above and beyond being a source of nourishment, energy, and social community. Alongside nature’s own functional foods, like broccoli, citrus fruits, and garlic, there are products created by a process of research and development. Cecilia Mark-Herbert’s doctoral thesis at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences investigates how such products were developed and marketed in four cases: ProViva, Magiform, eggs with special properties, and BRA-milk.
The foodstuffs industry is generally seen as a mature market, characterized by efficiency- and volume-thinking. Products are seen as “low-tech” basic goods, and developing new products usually consists of modifying existing products. Within the EU, market competition has stiffened. One way to enhance a company’s positions is to produce foods that have value-added features. The patented “high-tech” products covered by the study provide companies with added value in the form of higher product pricing, income-generating licensing agreements, and enhanced company image.
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