The main driver for ingredient innovation was health and weight management, according to Alice Pegg, head of food innovation at Leatherhead Food International (LFI), which was in itself nothing new. But previous focus had been on cutting fat, salt and sugar content, and while this will continue, added benefits are being increasingly explored, like suppressing hunger. "The emphasis on health has been growing over the last few years and now becoming bigger," Pegg told FoodNavigator.com. "The biggest health issue in 2007 and 2008 is weight management." As European governments step up action on curbing obesity and encouraging health initiatives, there are no signs that the demand for healthy products will slow down. However, other areas may come into play, particularly influenced by food prices, which have been rising dramatically over the past year sparking innovation in replacers and cost-cutting initiatives. Satiety New developments in ingredients aimed at being low in fats, sugar or salt have continued to rise, following a few years of increased focus on this area. This is reflected in product launches for the year. For example, according to Mintel's Global New Products Database, 400 new low, no or reduced trans fats products that were launched in 2007, up from 100 in 2006. However, weight management now goes beyond just cutting unfavourable contents to improving functionality. Pegg said new products for weight management have been focused on the glycemic index (GI) and satiety. The GI measures how quickly certain foods release carbohydrates into the body, which then raise consumers' blood glucose levels. High GI foods cause blood sugar levels to rise more rapidly. However, Pegg said: "GI was big but it is difficult for consumers to understand. I think satiety will be a main issue carrying over into this year and we will see many developments in this area. "Recent activities have mainly be based on ingredients that are already around as it is time consuming and expensive. So, innovation in existing fibres and proteins with satiety effects has increased." Pegg said there have been new claims for existing ingredients, such as thickening and stabilising agents, that have been developed for better functionality as well as getting fibre from new sources. Government and health National and European governments have been placing more emphasis on health issues, particularly obesity and heart disease, as well as ways in which the food industry can help prevent and reduce these problems. Recent focus on food labelling, health and nutrition claims and salt reduction are just a few areas that have driven innovation. "When government becomes involved in an area, it provides a greater push for the industry to act on it," said Pegg. For example, health benefits of omega-3 have long been touted and yet innovation on this product is not slowing down because governments have maintained an interest in it. Recent efforts have been focused on improving stability of the product while producing products without a fishy taste, as well as finding new sources of the nutrient. Although health is becoming an ever-important issue, consumers do not want to sacrifice taste, so more and more companies are looking into providing solutions for healthy yet indulgent products. Pegg said this is one area LFI is focusing on at the moment. Food prices The cost of foods have been on the increase because of poor harvests affecting stocks, biofuels providing competition for grains, and emerging markets such as China increasing demand. Pegg said that innovation for 2008 will depend somewhat on whether this situation continues. "If prices remain high more focus could be on producing foods at a better price while improving functionality. I think 2008 and 2009 will be very interesting as the world economy will play an increasingly important role in developments in the food industry."