Health and medicinal food markets set to grow

With Australia transitioning from a resources-based economy to high value manufactured products, growing opportunities are being identified within the food processing sector for the development of new innovative products and niche markets, writes Hartley Henderson.

In particular, Asian and South East Asian countries with their rising purchasing power are seen as potentially strong growth markets for health and medicinal food products.

Bega Bionutrients is a recently created division of Bega Cheese, offering innovative ingredients for the health and nutrition market.

Similar to Bega Cheese’s infant nutrition business, this investment follows the strategy of adding value and diversifying risk over commodity dairy products, while leveraging the capabilities of the broader Bega group.

Bega Cheese already has an established track record in the bionutrients area, producing a number of bioactive dairy fractions from cow’s milk, and is one of the world’s leading suppliers of lactoferrin.

The company’s Bionutrients Development Manager, Matthieu Arguillere, explains that lactoferrin is a protein that naturally occurs at high levels in human milk, and also in cow’s milk, albeit at much lower amounts.


“Lactoferrin has been extensively researched and is currently used in infant formula, health foods and supplements for its immune enhancing properties. Research has indicated that it has multiple functions in the human body and has great potential for further exploration and use,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“The possibilities for further expansion in bionutrient products are very positive. There are minor elements in many foods that have bioactive properties that can be beneficial to the health of the consumer.

“However, these components may be sensitive and perishable in their normal food forms, not found at adequate levels to be beneficial, or they may also exist in their natural foods along with less desirable components.

“By extracting and enriching them as ingredients, we can preserve their activity better, they can be more easily consumed, and the health benefits can be enjoyed by a larger proportion of people.”

Matthieu said milk is a perfect example of this as there are a number of natural elements in milk, including lactoferrin, that have potential health benefits although these exist as very minor components.

“Our job is to extract and enrich these natural elements so that they can be more easily utilised as ingredients in different products. We have also set out to conduct scientific studies to understand how these bionutrients work, establish their safety and demonstrate their beneficial effect on health,” he said.

“Building on our current business, we are developing new technologies to manufacture these products, as well as novel bionutrient products, and we expect to see some of the first of these being launched in 2016.”

Matthieu pointed out that the health issues are global and that the company is seeing similar health trends facing its supplement, nutritional and health food customers in Australia, North America, Europe, and Asia. This indicates significant global market opportunities.

“To help protect the consumer, health authorities are introducing stronger regulations and tougher enforcement practices to govern advertising and health claims, and what products are considered safe and permitted,” he added.

“We are meeting this challenge by taking a scientific evidence-based approach to product development and providing customers with ingredients with proven health benefits. This is supported by our strong internal team of scientists and partnerships with top universities and research organisations in Australia and overseas.”

Super honey

It has long been claimed that honey has the ability to cure many conditions from cuts and wounds to fungal infections and skin irritations, but it has only been in recent years that greater understanding has been gained of the activities within honey.

In particular, Manuka honey, which is derived from the Leptospermum tree (pictured top) that is native to New Zealand and Australia, has been found to have unique health and healing properties.


Sales Director at Capilano Honey, Peter McDonald said that today, following extensive clinical testing in Australia, New Zealand and other countries, the unique value of Manuka has been recognised worldwide.

“Manuka honey is now sought after around the world for use in hospitals, burns units, family health care, digestive health care, beauty and skin care, veterinary practice, and diabetes clinics, as well as other specialist clinics as a health food,” he told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“When bees are collecting nectar from flowers, they introduce an enzyme to convert the nectar into honey and this produces an antibacterial activity in the honey called Hydrogen Peroxide Activity (HPA). However, HPA is very unstable and is easily destroyed by heat and light, so honey in the jar may have very little or no HPA left by the time it gets to the consumer.

“But further research showed that when the HPA in Manuka honey was destroyed the honey continued to show strong activity, which became known as Non Peroxide Antibacterial Activity (NPA). It was found that this activity was very stable in the honey and could withstand both heat and light.”

McDonald pointed out that the antibacterial strength of Manuka honey can be tested and the result is often shown as a strength number on the labels (e.g. NPA 10+).

“Clinical trials and case studies have been undertaken on Manuka honey showing the honey’s ability to inhibit many strains of bacteria including Staphylococcus Aureus and the MRSA super bug (golden staph) in a wound care environment,” he said.

“We are looking at partnering with New Zealand honey producer Comvita to develop the supply of Manuka honey in Australia. Both companies bring expertise on Manuka honey, which together should see increased production eventuate.

“Manuka has strong potential both domestically and internationally. China is a significant market for Manuka honey, as is South East Asia, and increasing supply is important to meet the growing opportunity, particularly in China.

“Honey sales continue to grow on the back of consumers looking for healthier products, and we have a strong focus on expanding further into Asia where there is a great appreciation of food as medicine.”