New research indicates that baked items and cereal account for almost 23% of the global functional foods market, with sales worth $5.5 billion from 2006-2010.

A report titled “Future Directions for the Global Functional Foods Market” by Leatherhead Food Research, the U.K.-based independent organization that delivers research, scientific consultancy, regulatory guidance and interpretation, predicts a 4-5% annual growth rate in the functional foods market within the next few years. The report pegs the international functional food and drink market (products making specific health claims) at $24.2 billion.

Several factors have contributed to functional foods’ surge, such as changes in consumers’ diet, lifestyles, awareness and interest in health and wellbeing, which are important factors creating a demand for healthful products. Expanding scientific knowledge and technological capability, particularly ingredient exploration and development, has led to increased product developments. And the number of new product introductions making functional claims has been growing by approximately 28% per year.

Fiber, mineral and vitamin-enriched bakery items and cereals expanded nearly 54% in value in the years under review, the report says. The category trails fortified dairy, which holds 38% of world market.

“Much of this growth has been due to the increasing number of cereal-based products marketed on a heart-health platform, in the United States in particular,” the publication notes.

There have been developments in the bread and breakfast cereal category in terms of calcium and vitamin D enrichment. “Cereal products supplied by General Mills and Nestlé’sUncle Toby’sbusiness unit continue to feature high levels of calcium,” comments the market research team.

The earlier part of 2011 saw Australian bread maker George Weston releasing its Tip Top functional bread, with high levels of calcium. Australia has seen a number of exciting innovations in the area of probiotic fortification of bread and cereals, remark the functional food specialists.