Functional cookies are proving a hit with Spanish consumers, and a host of companies are jostling for a share of the action. Ivan Castano reports.

Nutraceutical products such as yoghurts, health bars and energy drinks are already popular in Spain but Spanish consumers are now getting the taste for functional cookies, making this an exciting growth sector and one that is attracting much new product activity.

Companies such as Cuetara, Bio Century and Vendrell are taking notice, launching an array of new products to satisfy growing demand.

Spanish sales of Cuetara's "good-for-you" products rose by 8% last year, and product manager Victor Rodriguez predicts sales will increase by at least a further 10% in 2006 to EUR132m. Madrid-based Cuetara, the cookie division of food major SOS Cuetara, hopes its dietary cookie business will help offset a slump in sales of its traditional biscuits.

"Manufacturers are investing a lot and increasing production for these types of cookies," Rodriguez said, adding that Cuetara plans to step up investment in order to develop and launch new fibre-enriched wheat cookies.

Cuetara has been gaining supermarket listings for its wheat cookie range which includes Cuetara Fibra Due, F Plus and Fibra Integral, all of them fortified with nutraceutical ingredients such as L-Carnitine or Omega3. The company is working to extend its "strong selling" fibre line and plans to introduce new products for adults and children in coming months, though Rodriguez declined at this stage to give further details.

However, whatever its new product plans, Cuetara will find no shortage of competition. This is a growing sector of the market and there are plenty of companies looking for a slice of the action.

Of all players, arguably the company with the broadest product range is Bio Century. For example, its Efecto Bifidus [Bifidus Effect] biscuits come in a large range of flavours. Bio Century also markets a brand of wheat diet crackers made from different functional ingredients including soya, as well as dietetic and meal replacement bars.

But both Cuetara and Bio Century face increasing competition from a growing number of smaller rivals such as Santiveri, Bjorg, Gerble, Raddisson, Sanavi and Vendrell.

At Laboratorios Vendrell, efforts are underway to expand in the burgeoning functional cookie sector, says export director Magali Farres. The Barcelona-based concern is working to devise a new image and packaging presentation for its stalwart wheat cookie brand Fibretten, a fibre-enriched biscuit containing high amounts of linoleic acid.

Vendrell is forecasting a 12% sales increase for Fibretten this year and plans to add 100g and 250g packs to the existing 500g box of Fibretten in a bid to tap into the expanding snacks market in Spain. It is also considering launching new Fibretten lines possibly containing soya or Omega 3.

Farres forecasts that the functional cookie market could grow by up to 15% per year over the next few years. "The functional foods fashion has arrived in Spain and the best-selling products are cookies and yoghurts," said Farres, adding that demanding work schedules in Spain's booming economy are pushing consumers to seek healthy snacks to get them through the day and compensate for fewer meal breaks.

Granada-based Sanavi is also expanding its functional biscuits business. General manager Marimar Rodriguez says the company intends to add new fruit-filled bars to its Sanalinea Foods nutraceutical biscuits line this year. The new products may contain soja or other nutraceutical ingredients, Marimar Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez also revealed that Sanavi plans to launch a completely new Sanalinea cookie in 2006 that is likely to contain antioxidant or probiotic ingredients.

Sanalinea sells a wide range of fibre-enriched cookies, including sugar-free variants, along with high-fibre functional cookies including sugar-free chocolate biscuits Chocolitos, some of which contain soya, and an Omega 3-enriched line called Mari Diet. The company hopes the new launches will boost Sanalinea's sales by 20% this year, Rodriguez added.