Medical foods are often confused with dietary supplements and functional foods, which are neither targeted for specific disease conditions nor require medical supervision to be administered.
While regulations in the United States and Europe have clearly defined medical foods, those in other parts of the world are still under development. Recently, however, Australia and New Zealand have begun to regulate medical foods, a move that now puts pressure on other markets to improve their regulatory environment.
Asia-Pacific holds huge untapped market potential, though to penetrate it, Frost & Sullivan’s report urges companies to strengthen their research capabilities, invest in differentiating their products regionally, and focus on innovation.
Up by one-third
The global medical foods market earned revenues of US $9.36bn last year and estimates this to reach US$13.34bn in 2018.
The Frost & Sullivan report considered areas of medical foods in critical care and trauma, as well as oncology, diabetes, metabolic, digestive, immune, cardio-vascular, musculo-skeletal, and cognitive and CNS health.
Growing healthcare expenditure and rising public health consciousness are driving the global medical foods market. With life expectancy and disease incidence rates going up, the number of people receiving medical attention is expanding, boosting the volume base of the medical foods market.
"Interest in clinical nutrition as a means to treat diseases is gaining pace, fuelling the demand for medical foods in many countries," said Frost & Sullivan Chemicals, materials and food senior research Analyst Aparna Balasubramanian.
"While diabetes, oncology and metabolic health are currently the most significant application areas, immune and cardiovascular health are promising segments for future growth.”
However, drug-based therapies are still the dominant form of disease treatment and supplementing them with medical nutrition is yet to gain prominence in many parts of the world.
Moreover, medical foods for non-fatal diseases such as diabetes are ignored by many sections of the population. Comparatively, the consumption of medical foods for life-threatening conditions such as cancer is higher.
Another challenge for market participants in many developing countries other than the Philippines and Vietnam is a lack of awareness by physicians of the segment’s ability to accelerate recovery improve the well-being of patients.
Once manufacturers start focusing on building physician and end-user awareness on medical foods, the market will inch towards its true value, Frost & Sullivan said.