As widely acknowledged functional foods (FFs) may contribute to improve human
health due to the presence of specific components useful for their protective action
against several diseases. However it is essential that consumers are able to comprehend and
assess the properties of FFs health claims play a central role in helping consumers to select among food alternatives,
beyond providing protection against unsupported or misleading statements about foods properties.
At the same time health claims are the main marketing tool that the food industry could use to differentiate
FFs from other products. Clearly, massive investments in research and development are necessary
to enter the FF market segment, together with the possibility to protect innovation through patents. Current
paper aims to examine factors influencing consumer understanding and use of food health claims on FFs,
as well as providing several indications for developers, marketers and policy makers. After a brief review
of the literature the results of a quantitative survey conducted online on 650 Italian consumers are presented.
Results show that consumer use and understanding of health claims on FFs depend on different
variables such as socio-demographic characteristics, knowledge and confidence with nutrition information
but also wording and variables related specifically to the product. Furthermore, different segments with a
diverse degree of use and understanding of health claims have been identified. Therefore, to boost market
growth, more efforts are needed by policy makers and marketers to provide better information on nutrition
and health aspects of FF using an approach capable to ensure truthful, significant and clear information.
Finally some recent patents related to the FFs market with specific regard to components and/or functionality
investigated in the current paper are reviewed.