Health and wellness look set to continue to be key drivers of new product development in the US next year, according to Datamonitor’s Productscan Online survey of next year’s product trends.

Looking at trends likely to influence the packaged food market in the coming year, Productscan Online identified probiotic and other functional foods, organic children’s food, fresh produce, and superfruits to be among the most active areas for NPD.

According to Datamonitor, the probiotic trend is now extending beyond yoghurt. Following the success of products such as Dannon’s Activia, which achieved sales of more than US$150m in its first year sales in the US, companies have launched other probiotic products, such as Kraft’ Foods’ LiveActive Cheese.

Datamonitor said chocolate might be the next category to see the launch of probiotic product variants, with chocolate producer Barry Callebaut at the forefront of innovation in the category.

Among other functional foods set to capture consumers’ imaginations is milk aimed at assisting better sleep, such as the Japanese Nakazawa Adult Milk. The milk comes from cows milked at the break of dawn and is naturally high in melatonin, which aids sleep. New products based on the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are also forecast to hit the US market.

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The growing controversy over marketing practices involved in selling foods aimed at kids is providing an opening for organic food and beverage producers, says Datamonitor. “Organic product makers are just beginning to aggressively target the kids’ market,” the Productscan report said, citing examples such as Amy’s Kitchen, which now offers Amy’s Not Just for Kids Meals Frozen Entrees.

Datamonitor said fresh food willl also become an increasingly important category for food companies, with Tesco’s attempt to “to reinvent the convenience store as the destination for fresh food” with its Fresh & Easy concept in the US cited as a significant development.

“While it is too early to judge how Tesco’s effort is going, “fresh” is indeed hot,” said Datamonitor. “New frozen foods that are cooked with steam in special microwave packages like new Rosetto Steam’n Eat Ravioli in the US are an up-and-coming “fresh” trend. The number of new food products launched in the US that either use or are designed to use steam as a cooking method tripled between 2005 and 2007.”

Meanwhile, high-nutrient “superfruits” like acai, goji berries, noni and even pomegranates are being seen in a widening array of food and beverage products sold though health and natural foods stores.

Datamonitor said it expects superfruits to be increasingly featured in the mainstream market in 2008 as larger companies begin to move into this area.