Food companies apply for over 1,200 patents as ‘clean eating’ trend drives innovation

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Food companies apply for over 1,200 patents as ‘clean eating’ trend drives innovation

Food companies apply for over 1,200 patents as ‘clean eating’ trend drives innovation

  • Functional foods and nutraceuticals deliver bigger profit margins

There were 1,269 applications to patent food globally in 2016*, according to new research by EMW, the commercial law firm.

EMW says that the numbers of global food patent applications have risen steadily from 1,176 in 2010, as new technology and continuing trends towards health and fitness, particularly amongst the younger generations, sparks innovation in the sector.

EMW adds that food with health benefits is a fast-growth area for the food industry, with high profit margins and high levels of R&D based around nutraceuticals and functional foods. Patents can protect the technology used by companies when developing products within these areas, and create a barrier to entry for competitors.

Food companies which filed the most patents globally include consumer giant Unilever, Swiss food manufacturer Nestlé and Meiji Holdings of Japan – the fourth largest confectionery company in the world. Unilever and its subsidiaries filed 87 patents, Nestlé filed 77, and Meiji 24.

A significant number of patents filed related to;

  • Immunity-enhancing foods, for example dietary supplements containing ginseng and jujube;
  • ‘Free from’ foods – machinery for producing lactose-milk and gluten-free bread;
  • ‘Clean eating’ foods- ‘unprocessed’ health products such as coconut oils;
  • Nutraceuticals such as protein powders and omega-3 products;
  • Functional foods, including yoghurts containing probiotic bacteria such as acidophilus, and breakfast cereals fortified with minerals such as iron and vitamins

The continuing rise in trends such as ‘clean eating’ has largely been driven by a growing health consciousness amongst younger generations, particularly due to social media influencers such as health food blogger Deliciously Ella.

In particular, the popularity of ‘Free From’ products such as gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan goods has grown more in recent years, as consumers become more aware of allergies and food-borne illnesses, and the ethical implications of food production.

EMW adds that a large proportion of patents filed relate to nutraceuticals, which are pharmaceutical-grade products, including supplements such as protein powders, weight loss teas or ‘juice cleanse’ products. These have become more popular as consumers follow health and fitness trends.

Companies also filed a number of patents relating to functional foods in the past year. These include probiotic yoghurts, and foods or drinks with additional healthy ingredients which would usually not be found in large quantities, such as iron or folic acid.

Mark Finn, Principal at EMW, says: “The ‘clean eating’ trend has helped revolutionise the premium end of the food industry, as consumers become more selective about the food they buy.”

“Nutraceuticals such as ‘juice cleanse’ products and functional foods in particular are flying off the shelves, as consumers switch to healthier options.”

“As people become more health-conscious, the largest food companies, such as Nestle, Unilever and Danone are continually looking at ways to use advances in technology to expand and develop their food products.”

“In addition to this, purely healthy food companies have become more prevalent, such as Naked juice smoothies, or Bootea slimming teas.”

“The younger generations in particular are recognising the benefits of more emphasis on eating well in order to improve their health and fitness – and food companies are capitalising on this high growth area.”

Top food companies which filed the most patents globally in 2016

graph of top food companies which filed patents

* Patents relating to food and drink, filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation, year end: December 31