The number of fortified food launches almost doubled last year despite the EU’s clampdown on marketing claims about health benefits.

Suppliers launched 488 fortified food products in the UK last year compared with 245 in 2010 and 193 in 2009, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

The two biggest contributors to NPD growth were high-fibre products and vitamin and mineral fortified foods, which both tripled to 78 and 63 respectively.

Notable launches over the past year included the fibre-enriched oat drink Oatly Fresh and Kellogg’s roll-out of added vitamin D to all its kids’ cereals. Foods with added vitamins, minerals and fibre have been less affected by the EU’s tough stance on claims because their benefits are already well-known to consumers.

The increase comes after the UK’s fortified food and drink market grew 5% to £785m in 2010 [Mintel MAT December 2010]. With European legislation expected to come into force in coming months that will outlaw all but a handful of health claims, the crackdown had been expected to slow new product development.

But suppliers did not need to make explicit claims to persuade consumers of their health credentials, said Mintel analyst Alex Beckett. “Companies have become a lot more savvy about how they market products.”

Danone, for example, said sales of its Activia range had not been affected by its replacement of an on-pack claim that the yoghurt ‘helps reduce digestive transit’ with a graphic of a stomach.

And, boosted by a positive EFSA verdict for the claim that the plant extracts “reduce blood cholesterol”, new launches with claims related to stanols and sterols increased from just two in 2010 to 12 last year, including a new raspberry variant of Benecol’s one-a-day yoghurt drinks that carry the claim “proven to reduce cholesterol” last April. The positive health claim helped the brand’s yoghurt sales increase by 5% to £41.3m [Nielsen MAT 1 October 2011].

Beckett predicted that, by stamping out dubious claims that fuel consumer cynicism, the EU’s crackdown on health claims could be a positive development for the industry.

“EFSA has forced manufacturers to better themselves, giving them a stronger chance of engaging with an audience that - after the middle of 2012 - would no longer be encumbered by dubious health claims,” he added.

The fortified food market would grow by 32% to £1.1bn by 2016, he predicted.