Foods for weight management continue to evolve with advancements in nutritional and physiological sciences.

Foods for weight management continue to evolve with advancements in nutritional and physiological sciences. The industry is shifting from “minus” foods (i.e., diet and low and light foods) towards “plus” foods, with such functional weight management products providing consumers with differentiation and added value. Such “active” formulations are reflected in the fact that the terms “diet” and “weight loss” have been replaced by “weight management.”

A booming marketplace

According to U.K.-based Leatherhead Food Research, the worldwide weight-management market of foods and beverages was worth an estimated $7.3 billion in 2009, and is set to grow at a rate of 6-8% annually for the next five years. Leatherhead explains that successful weight-management foods are both convenient and offer a benefit that can be felt quickly, if not immediately. Marketers must clearly convey this benefit to consumers, otherwise consumers will become skeptical. The product must also deliver on taste and texture, as today’s consumers are not willing to sacrifice sensory satisfaction for the sake of losing a few pounds, especially when there are so many options in the marketplace.

Growth so far has been largely due to innovations within the bakery/cereals and beverage markets, which have respective shares of 33.5% and 28.4% of the weight-management market. This is largely due to the ability of these products to carry ingredients associated with weight management, such as fiber and protein, as well as the fact that they are generally perceived by consumers as both convenient and healthy.

Ready meals and snacks come in third place with a 21.6% share; while dairy comes in fourth with an 8.2% share, according to Leatherhead. All other foods make up the remaining share.

Dairy has the potential to increase share of the weight-management food and beverage market, as not only are dairy foods an inherent source of high-quality protein, many dairy applications are ideal carriers of fiber and additional protein, including both soy and whey. For these reasons plus others, Weight Watchers International Inc., New York, the global leader in weight management programs, recognizes nonfat dairy foods as “power foods” in its new PointsPlus program.

“We are retiring the popular Points weight loss system, which was implemented 13 years ago in the States and at the time represented the best science,” says Stephanie Rost, corporate program development director and a registered dietician. “The new PointsPlus program reflects the latest scientific research that has been discovered since the original program rolled out.

“PointsPlus goes far beyond traditional calorie counting to give people the edge they need to lose weight and keep it off in a fundamentally healthier way,” she says.

The PointsPlus program takes into account the energy contained in each source of calories - carbohydrates, fat, fiber and protein - and it also factors in how hard the body works to process them, and even more importantly, accounts for how these nutrients affect feelings of hunger and fullness.

“The end result is that consumers are guided towards healthy and satisfying foods, without having to think too much about it,” she says.  “In addition to the new formula, foods that are low in energy density and therefore, more highly satisfying, are emphasized within the program. Specifically, all fresh fruits and most vegetables now have zero PointsPlus values. We realized that sometimes members were skipping fruits and vegetables because they said they didn’t want to ‘waste’ their points. Now, they’re picking them more, because they are a more enticing choice.”

Powerful dairy foods

Weight Watchers is also introducing the concept of Power Foods to its new PointsPlus program. “This element of the program provides an easy way to identify the best food choices among similar foods, for example, those foods with higher eating satisfaction, lower sugar, lower sodium, healthier fat and more fiber,” says Rost. “Many nonfat dairy foods are identified as Power Foods.”

Rost explains that Weight Watchers has always promoted and encouraged the consumption of dairy foods throughout the day. “Weight Watchers recognizes that dairy foods are so much more than just a source of calcium,” she says. “Most dairy foods are nutrient dense and can be very satiating. In fact, we refer to milk as an ‘exception’ beverage, as it does more than thirst quench. This is not just because of the high-quality protein found in milk, but the fact that milk contains a higher percent of solids than many other beverages.”

David Kirchhoff, president and CEO of Weight Watchers, says, “We are changing the way Americans view calories and select their food. Our new PointsPlus program will not only deliver weight loss success, it will help transform America’s eating habits and the way we make our food choices.”

Weight Watchers licenses its brand to food companies manufacturing products that comply with the company’s standards. This includes LaLa Foods Inc., Dallas, which makes Weight Watchers yogurt; Schreiber Foods Inc., Green Bay, Wis., which makes Weight Watchers natural and process cheeses; and Wells’ Dairy Inc., Le Mars, Iowa, which produces Weight Watchers frozen desserts. 

“All the Weight Watchers branded dairy products can be used by both those following the Weight Watchers program and weight-conscious consumers who are looking for a better-for-you alternative that doesn’t sacrifice on taste,” says Hugh Dever, director of licensing. “Weight Watchers has provided licensees with information about the new PointsPlus program for use on both the front and back of the packaging. This packaging should be reaching shelves in January, consistent with the time of year when many people are making a resolution to lose weight and make healthier food choices.”

This will be an exciting year for the weight-management market. Make sure to promote your dairy products for the power they possess.

Sidebar: Study Says HFCS Does Not Uniquely Promote Obesity

For the past five years, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been implicated as a prime suspect in the obesity epidemic. However, new research presented Oct. 9, 2010 at the Obesity Society’s 28th Annual Scientific Meeting shows no statistical differences between people given HFCS and those given sucrose (sugar).

Results from the double-blind study revealed that fructose-containing sweeteners do not uniquely contribute to obesity when consumed as part of a healthy, weight-maintenance diet. In the study, overweight or obese adults were placed on a 10-week eucaloric diet - a diet that supplies the body with just the right number of calories necessary to maintain current body weight. The eucaloric diet incorporated either HFCS or sucrose-sweetened low-fat milk. Participants’ consumption of low-fat milk accounted for 10-20% of their daily allotted calories, which represents typical levels of sweetener consumption. Study participants did not experience a change in body weight, percent of body fat, fat mass or percent of abdominal body fat. Sucrose and HFCS each contain the same number of calories.

These results are meaningful for the food and beverage industry because they provide further scientific evidence that products containing HFCS do not promote weight gain more than products containing sugar.