As consumer demand for low-calorie products continues to rise, food and beverage companies are taking advantage of the growing opportunities by developing increasingly innovative products to meet demand. Protecting that innovation is critical, from ensuring that patents have been filed in each country where the product is sold, to protecting product trade marks during infringement cases.

Several recently released industry reports, including those from Transparency Market Research1 and PS Market Research2 show that the low-calorie market continues to grow at a significant rate. With consumers more health conscious than ever before, low-calorie and low-fat food products, meal replacements and healthy food options continue to gain shelf space in conventional supermarkets, fuelling a drive amongst food and beverage companies to develop more and more innovative products to meet consumer demand.

However the development of healthy food products is not only about reduction of salt, calories, sugar or fat. Food and drinks manufacturers have been developing new ingredients that can actively promote body weight reduction and control including sugar substitutes and functional ingredients.

In the sugar substitute market, some of the more recent patents that have been issued to Coca-Cola disclose improvements to sweeteners utilised by the company in its various products. For example, U.S. Patent No. 8,945,652, entitled high potency sweetener for weight management and compositions sweetened therewith describes a type of artificial sweetener that overcomes some of the negative health benefits of sugar and some of the taste deficiencies of the other sweeteners. It claims to have developed a functional sweetener composition comprising a weight management agent, which has an improved temporal profile and/or flavour profile, reduced caloric content and a more sugar-like flavour.

Food and drink companies are increasingly appreciating the value of protecting their new developments and innovation. Whilst the protection of new ingredients and sugar substitutes is certainly important, patents can also help to protect known ingredients in new products. Patents can also be obtained for an innovation that provides a new use for an existing ingredient or a novel process to make the ingredients and products.

In Food Ingredients 1st October 2015 issue3, it reported that PureCircle, one of the leading producers of high-purity stevia ingredients, has recently announced that it has further sought international protection of their United States Patent Application pertaining to the use of rebaudioside M (Reb M) in beverage applications. The Reb M product patent is the latest of more than 60 other granted patents across their portfolio of stevia ingredients.

In the functional ingredient market, proteins are a key ingredient especially in weight management beverages. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) recently named protein as one of 2014s functional food trends. Innova Market Insights data indicates that while vegetables lead the list for the number of published protein patents in food and drinks, whey has risen from eighth position in 2012 to third in 2013. At the same time, the number of nut and seed protein patents has also risen sharply, from single figures in 2012 to more than 200 in 2013. Strong activity has also been observed in patent actions relating to algae-derived proteins.

New trends also include incorporation of natural functional ingredients such as fibre, green tea extract, guarana, ginger root or South Asian fruit garcinia cambogia extract into drinks for weight management. These innovations create new opportunities and markets for companies to develop and profit from, providing they ensure that these new products are registered and adequately protected.

For example, the company FytexiaTM offers patented weight loss ingredients for beverages, formulated from natural Mediterranean citrus and other natural ingredients which are high in bioactive polyphenols. LifeStyle Brands International LLC also launched Uvé, a naturally flavoured and sweetened sparkling beverage that claims to help boost individual healthy weight management efforts. This drink contains patented WellTrimiG African mango seed extract which is claimed to help decrease weight and waist circumference when it is taken at the recommended dose.

Today new beverages are also targeting cognitive health, immune and digestive health, joint health and beauty, incorporating functional ingredients in a unique way.