'FUNCTIONAL FOODS' TO WORK IN STORES: GMA

WASHINGTON -- More "functional foods" -- products that are vitamin-fortified to help prevent disease -- are expected to find their way to supermarket shelves in 1998, the head of the Grocery Manufacturers of America said in his recent Annual State of the Food and Packaged Goods Industry report."We're laying the groundwork for the introduction of foods that go beyond supplying basic nutrition -- so-called

WASHINGTON -- More "functional foods" -- products that are vitamin-fortified to help prevent disease -- are expected to find their way to supermarket shelves in 1998, the head of the Grocery Manufacturers of America said in his recent Annual State of the Food and Packaged Goods Industry report.

"We're laying the groundwork for the introduction of foods that go beyond supplying basic nutrition -- so-called functional foods that researchers say can actually prevent disease when eaten as part of a low-fat diet and healthy lifestyle," said C. Manly Molpus, president and chief executive officer of the GMA here.

Molpus said functional foods will likely be fortified with anti-oxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, and other beneficial ingredients that block cholesterol or fight colon cancer. The ingredients can be found in everything from breakfast cereals to TV dinners, and will increasingly be touted on the packaging and on commercials, much as Quaker Oats and Kellogg's are doing with their breakfast cereals.

Molpus expects the growing popularity of functional foods will put more pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to approve their health claims.

He also expects irradiation, the process of treating foods with low-level doses of radiation to kill harmful bacteria, to grow in popularity among consumers and the industry, and to soon become as commonplace as pasteurization.

"The food industry will work hard this year to educate consumers about the irradiation process, which could have prevented the E. coli outbreaks and other foodborne illnesses in 1997, had it been in use," Molpus said.

He expects food prices to remain stable this year, helped by continued low inflation, ample commodity supplies and vigorous competition. Improved international trade should also help U.S. growers, producers and manufacturers better compete around the world, he said.