EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 26, 2008

Markets respond to growing appetite for healthier foods

Healthy foods — or at least healthier versions of popular products — are big business these days.

Diet Coke Plus offers soda drinkers a "good source of vitamins B3, B6, and B12, and the minerals zinc and magnesium," according to press material. 7Up might not be all-natural, but it is made of — and marketed as — "100 percent natural flavors."

Even the candy bar industry is getting in the game by offering new items such as 100-calorie M&M packs, 3 Musketeers and Twix candy bars.

"The foundation of business is to make a profit," said Bill Zannini, coordinator of the business programs at Northern Essex Community College. "You need to find a way to do that today by addressing the needs of customer.

"People are saying, 'I don't want to be obese. I don't want health issues. I want products that will create a healthier life, whether it's the car I drive, the food I eat, maybe even clothes I wear.' That's what consumers are looking for."

In fact, nine out of 10 surveyed adults were concerned about the nutritional aspects of their diet; three out of four had changed their eating habits within the last three to five years because of health concerns; and six out of 10 were willing to pay more for healthier foods, according to a 2007 survey by the United Soybean Board.

Consumer goods companies big and small are certainly responding, as the sheer number of healthy products on the shelves can be daunting to some.

"We're overloaded right now," said Merrimack College marketing professor Joseph Stasio. "There's too much choice. Markets respond and go through cycles. When a market matures, there's usually a shake-out or consolidation. They'll slow down, and only the biggest brands will survive. The smaller brands will transition or partner with one of the bigger ones."

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