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Buying into Functional Foods

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: July 31, 2009, from the August 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

So much confusion swirls around the topic of nutricosmetics. Beauty consumers ask: What are they? How do they differ from nutraceuticals? Are they safe? Even with all of these questions, the fact remains that women are open to just about anything when it comes to beautifying themselves. East has definitely met West with an explosion of new nutricosmetics and nutraceuticals, already popular in Asian markets, flooding Western markets. What will it take to get them to go from confused to convinced?

Swallowing the Idea

The old adage, “You are what you eat,” is a seemingly simple concept, but when it comes to nutraceuticals and nutricosmetics, the idea is a bit harder to swallow. Foods specifically developed to enhance beauty are one of the newest trends, but perhaps the hardest to market in North America. Convincing skeptics that the products are both cosmetically effective and food-grade is the biggest challenge.

According to the 2008 Pink Report “The Age of Naturals,” 72% of women who bought natural or organic beauty products believed in the concept of inside-out beauty—that what is ingested is equally key to physical beauty. Even so, women buyers still remain cautious in trying nutricosmetics, with an astounding 91% not knowing what a nutricosmetic is. But, don’t fret, their lack of education has no correlation with their willingness to try, swinging the doors wide open to marketers and manufacturers.

In Asian markets, notably Japan, nutraceuticals are anything but uncommon. The Japanese have a long-standing and rich culture with herbal remedies. Something like collagen-enriched chicken soup for lunch followed by collagen marshmallows for dessert might seem an odd thing to order in the West, but the Japanese find nothing at all unusual about it. It certainly won’t be long until the West catches up, but, for now, an emerging nutraceutical and nutricosmetic market is beginning to sprout. From gummy bears to yogurt, eating and drinking to attain beautiful skin remains the newest segment of beauty, and savvy marketers and formulators should not wait any longer to make their foray into the category.

Currently, teas and waters are the biggest product categories, but experts maintain that the largest potential for growth in the U.S. lies with dairy and chocolate products. Because Western beauty consumers are late to the game, and clearly more skeptical than their Asian counterparts, dairy and chocolate are a much less scary proposition. But why? An unsophisticated palette? Absolutely not. Western palettes love chocolate, and if consumers can eat it and gain beauty benefits, it’s a no brainer—they’ll happily eat it. Also, the perception of dairy, especially when it comes to yogurts, is very adventurous. Consumers are already comfortable with knowing that it is packed with all kinds of things that they don’t clearly understand anyway—so why not have it offer a beauty benefit? This is not sneaky, it’s just smartly tapping into what women are more likely to accept.

The Proof is in the Punch