Consulting firm Arthur D. Little has produced the first low-fat fish oil ice cream. In a society plagued with poor eating habits and the resultant health problems, it's no surprise that US companies are devising more appealing ways to provide nutrition. The new ice cream contains omega-3 fatty acids that help the heart, brain, eyes and joints and should receive a positive reception in the growing market for functional foods.

With so many people shunning the recommended two fish servings a week, it makes sense to find a more appealing way to bring health to the masses. Fish oil ice cream, however, does not sound much more tempting. Yet, Arthur D. Little, the consultancy group that previously helped to produce SlimFast shakes and Tropicana orange juice, is sure its new creation masks the fishy flavor.

"One of the most important factors that we focus on when developing functional foods, such as the fish oil ice cream, is taste," commented Marv Rudolph of Arthur D. Little's Technology & Innovation business. "Consumers will not buy a product unless it tastes good - even if it is full of nutritious ingredients."

The new ice cream, currently being pitched to the dairy industry, contains omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oils, a compound that has long been established as having major health benefits. The fatty acids are good for the heart and cardiovascular system, the brain, eyes and nervous system, as well as joint health.

It has been a challenge to incorporate them into food products because of their sensitivity to heat, light and air. When exposed to any of these, the fatty acids produce a fishy flavor. This is where the ice cream comes in, as its cold temperature and limited exposure to light prevents the fish taste from emerging. A vanilla/orange flavor combination also minimizes any unpleasant smell and taste produced during the manufacturing process.

Arthur D. Little is onto a good thing, targeting the growing consumer demand for functional foods - Datamonitor expect the US nutraceuticals market to grow by 8.7% a year to reach $34.8 billion by 2005. While the mental image of a fish and ice cream combination is slightly disturbing, as long as the taste and smell really are unnoticeable the idea should be a good one.

Putting positive benefits into desirable and traditionally unhealthy treats could prove to be a very fruitful strategy.

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