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Preventive Measures : Search for Therapeutic Foods Picks Up Steam


When Bob Dole's throat grew raspy in his last-gasp, 96-hour campaign push, he began sipping an herbal tea called Throat Coat, made by Traditional Medicinals in Sebastopol, Calif. The same tea, as it happens, had worked wonders for a hoarse candidate named Bill Clinton in 1992.

The Sonoma County company is part of a movement gaining steam worldwide: the search for therapeutic foods, beverages and dietary supplements.

With little fanfare, cereal giant Kellogg last week joined the push, forming a Functional Foods division to focus on developing and marketing foods to help prevent and treat disease.

Medical research has demonstrated that certain nutrients can protect individuals against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. As consumers age, Kellogg and other companies figure, a potentially big market could develop.

Already, a Miami drug company, Ivax, is wooing diabetics with Zbar chocolate bars made from uncooked cornstarch, designed to reduce episodes of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Other companies have developed a fake salt that purportedly lowers blood pressure and hypoallergenic infant formula. Vyrex of La Jolla recently bought San Diego-based Nutrition 21, a developer of dietary supplements for diabetics.

Campbell Soup plans to sell a mail-order meal program that it says reduces high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The 10-week program will be tested in Ohio early next year.

An outspoken proponent of the industry is endocrinologist Stephen L. DeFelice, founder of the 20-year-old Foundation for Innovation in Medicine in Cranford, N.J. He has coined the medical-sounding term "nutraceuticals."

Also known variously as designer foods, medical foods and therapeutic foods (as well as the ill-defined functional foods), these products by any name represent a golden business opportunity.

Odwalla to Shun Apple Juice

Odwalla, whose unpasteurized apple juice was linked to the recent outbreak of E. coli illness, said it plans to remove apple juice from all its drinks--for the time being. The Half Moon Bay, Calif., juice company will introduce as early as next week versions of its drinks that don't contain apple juice. Until the company learns how some of its drinks were tainted, it said, apple juice won't be used. Pasteurization, Odwalla said, is one of many steps under consideration. Aware of the potential dangers of unpasteurized apple juice or cider, the U.S. Apple Assn. in McLean, Va., six weeks ago launched research to determine, among other things, what methods of washing and brushing apples are safest. Given the latest outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration has urged the trade group to accelerate its study.

A Bubbling Wine Industry

UC Davis, alma mater of scores of winemakers populating Napa and Sonoma counties, assesses the mood of wineries, grape growers and wine retailers each year. The most recent study, released at an industry symposium last week in Napa, revealed that the industry is bubbling over with optimism. More than 90% of the respondents said they believe that business is on an upswing, with most expecting the good times (high prices and strong demand coupled with tight grape supplies) to last two or more years. This year's increase in sales was attributed to the perceived health benefits of drinking wine and to the nation's economic recovery. Sales of wine selling for less than $6 a bottle are expected to drop, as sales of wines costing $7 or more rise. Speakers warned that a looming glut of grapes could dash cold water on wineries' enthusiasm. Growers, they said, would be foolish to over-plant, since recently planted vines in vineyards hit by disease will soon begin producing grapes and help erase the cyclical industry's current deficit.

Martha Groves can be reached via e-mail at

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