While health foods are becoming increasingly popular across the globe, there are still some areas which remain undeveloped by the major food producers. One such area is diabetic food, which has struggled to overcome limited distribution and consumer uncertainty.
A new report, Dietetic Foods from market analysts Euromonitor shows that although the number of diabetics is increasing around the world, the overall market for diabetic confectionery remains small, worth only a fraction of total confectionery sales. This is perhaps due in part to the fact that medical opinion in some developed markets frowns upon the use of specialist diabetic products, while many developing markets only offer staples in diabetic formulations.
The medical image of such products is also often unappealing to consumers, and what diabetic products there are are often limited in their distribution highly regulated. Moreover, Euromonitor said, increasing interest in sugar-free confectionery is undermining the diabetic confectionery market, with diabetic consumers now more likely to buy sugar-free confectionery which can be shared with family and friends, at their local convenience store.
Most developed markets are wary of diabetic products, and sufferers are usually urged to eat a carefully adjusted diet of normal foods, in order to maintain good general health, while controlling their condition.
The report shows that this is the case in such major markets as Australia, France, Hong Kong, Norway, the UK and the US, and particularly applies to the consumption of non-essential items such as confectionery, where medical practitioners strongly recommend self-control rather than consumption of diabetic products.
Furthermore, the report continues, products described as "suitable for diabetics" which may be found in a typical health food store are generally sugar-free variants of a mainstream brand, rather than a specialist diabetic product formulation.
But sales of specialist diabetic foods are significant in a number of countries including China, Italy and Germany.
Among the most common diabetic foods are products such as jams and spreads or biscuits and cakes, although diabetic sweets and chocolates represented an important element in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, particularly in value sales terms as these products typically have a higher unit price, the report shows. In Japan and China, however, the primary product focus of diabetic foods is on staple elements, such as rice and noodles, although some diabetic biscuits and cakes are also marketed.
These differences in product availability underline distinct regional differences in diabetic products with western markets driven by aspirational purchasing while Asian markets are more need-driven. It also highlights significant differences in approaches to disease prevention and control, with Asia Pacific typically adopting a more holistic approach.
Although the market still remains niche, diabetic foods are now becoming more widely available. Diabetic products have traditionally been distributed through chemists, drugstores and health food stores. But the Euromonitor report shows that these channels have lost sales to supermarkets and hypermarkets in many countries, as grocery retailers have come to realise a potential opportunity to market these products more seriously in their stores as an extension of health and wellness fixture areas.
Diabetic foods are typically manufactured on a regional or local level, with few multinational companies involved. Notable exceptions include Nestle, Kraft, Numico and Hain Foods, along with others which are specialists in a particular area, such as Suchard in confectionery or Bahlsen in biscuits.
Sugar-free rather than specialist diabetic products are far more common, appearing in the range of most confectionery manufacturers. Sugar-free confectionery appeals to a far broader demographic than diabetic products, and combined with the fact that at retail it can be as much as 20 per cent more expensive than standard variants, sugar-free offers far greater returns than diabetic products.
So while there is significant potential for manufacturers of well-known confectionery brands to expand their brands with sugar-free offerings, the report concludes, diabetic products as such have only a limited growth potential. But taking the whole diabetic and sugar-free product sector out of the specialist arena and into the mainstream could bring substantial returns.