Consumers have developed a more sophisticated understanding about heart health. Many are now able to differentiate between different aspects, such as stroke, improved circulation and plaque buildup, and they are interested in functional food and beverage products that allow them to improve their heart health.

The focus on heart health emerged Nov. 7 at the SupplySide West Global Expo and Conference in an education session focusing on lifestyles, eating patterns and issues that offer opportunities for functional foods.

“We are also starting to hear more about different aspects of heart health,” says Catherine Adams Hutt, chief science and regulatory officer for Sloan Trends Inc., Escondido, Calif. “Consumers are becoming more sensitive to different aspects of heart health. Stroke, in particular, is very concerning to consumers.

“Obviously the medical community has brought attention to the issues of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and high cholesterol. From the consumer side there is more attention to stroke as to high blood pressure and plaque, but plaque is going to be very important as well.” 

Adams Hutt says circulation is something she thinks the food and beverage industry may take advantage of in terms of functional foods.

“The medical community really does believe in the benefits of circulation health connections for heart health,” she says. “Consumers also get the connection between circulation and energy performance as well as heart health. They are thinking about better circulation helping them perform better in sports and they realize better circulation means their heart is going to be healthier.”

With regards to functional ingredients, Adams Hutt highlighted the benefits of flavanols on improved circulation.

“Cocoa and dark chocolate are tops in awareness for consumers and flavanols,” she says. “This is good news. There is a very strong scientific story behind cocoa flavanols and circulation. This has been heavily researched and there is a lot of connections between heart function, brain function and exercise performance.

“Mars did a lot of this work a long time ago and launched the product called CocoaVia. They have sustained very effectively a circulation structure function health claim for products containing at least 200 mg of cocoa flavanols.”

But Adams Hutt added that the big news in the market segment was the granting by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) of a health claim approval for circulation tied to cocoa flavanols to the chocolate company Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland. The claim was granted in July and states:

“Cocoa flavanols help maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation which contributes to normal blood flow.”

Barry Callebaut provided evidence to EFSA that shows the intake of 200 mg of cocoa flavanols (provided by 2.5g of high-flavanol cocoa powder or 10g of high-flavanol dark chocolate) positively influence blood circulation in the human body. The company is the first in the European Union to obtain a positive scientific opinion on a health claim on cocoa flavanols.

Finally, Adams Hutt says plaque is an issue that is starting to cross into the commercialization phase of product development.

“Consumers are showing interest in it,” she says. “They are very sensitive to and knowledgeable about the concept of plaque and want to see functional foods that are going to prevent plaque and atherosclerosis.”