© AgMedia Inc.
by TREENA HEIN
Demand for the “bioactive” compounds in Ontario crops such as soybean, corn and cereals will only continue to increase as Canada’s functional food market expands. These are foods that contain added health-promoting substances such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
Dr. John Cranfield, an associate professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph, says the crops containing these bioactive compounds are all grown in the province, “so this market represents good opportunities.”
The compounds include phytosterols (soybean, corn and cereals) which have positive effects on cardiovascular disease, and isoflavones (soybean), which help reduce cholesterol risk. Other bioactive compounds include antioxidant lycopene (tomatoes and other crops), psyllium fibre and probiotics.
Cranfield is a speaker at the Agri-Food Innovation Forum (www.agrifoodforum.com) that runs this week in Toronto (Feb. 10-12). The conference centres on the latest innovations in agriculture and food linked to human health and disease prevention.
With his colleague Spencer Henson, Cranfield has been studying consumer attitudes and purchasing patterns regarding functional foods at the individual, household and market level for several years. Since 2003, they have done surveys and panel research to determine how Ontario consumers view various bioactive compounds as well as the foods and supplements (pills) that contain them.
“We have found that consumers are still trying to figure out what these substances and their benefits are,” says Cranfield. “A certain number of consumers do look for these compounds when they buy groceries and supplements.”
The research has also found that consumers much prefer government-backed claims versus those made by a company. “The product form is also very important to them,” says Cranfield. People tend to prefer products they’re familiar with, such as bread.”
Cranfield warns, however, that companies should also be cautious about overloading consumers with too much information or functional ingredients. “We are still in the introductory phase of the life cycle for these types of products,” he says. “Marketers need to be careful or their products will fail.”
Mary Wiley, manager of Soyfoods Canada and communications manager for the Ontario Soybean Growers says interest is growing in soyfoods because of their health benefits. “The isoflavones are the key, as is the high-satiety low-fat protein of this crop.”
When faced with stressful environmental conditions, soybean plants produce isoflavones and other bioactive phytochemical compounds in an effort to protect themselves. The production of these compounds can be boosted through selective breeding, and research is beginning to show that they can give the same benefits when ingested by humans.
Wiley says hundreds of food products containing soy have been introduced in North America in recent years. The most popular products are soy drinks, desserts, cereals and cooking and salad oils. However, soybeans are also found in snack foods, energy bars, breads and more.
“The demand for Ontario-grown soybeans will continue to grow because they have become part of smart, heart-healthy diets,” says Wiley. BF