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Functional foods: a conceptual definition

Maurice Doyon (Laval University, Quebec City, Canada)
JoAnne Labrecque (HEC Montreal, Montreal, Canada)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 24 October 2008



To draw the frontiers of the functional food universe, to identify concepts that should be included in a broadly accepted functional food definition and to propose a definition.


Based on a review of the literature and the Delphi technique with a group of North American and European experts.


Four concepts were identified: the nature of food, health benefits, functions and regular consumption. Two dimensions, physiological effects and functional intensity, were developed to define the frontiers of the functional food universe and a definition is suggested.

Practical implications

A large number of definitions as well as great variations within definitions make it difficult to provide industry partners with robust information on market trends and market potential, or to appropriately protect consumers through legislation. This paper should contribute to the debate surrounding the type of food that should be considered a functional food and surrounding the lack of a common definition for functional foods.


This paper is the first one, to our knowledge, that attempts to conceptually define the frontiers of the functional food universe and to provide a definition of functional food which is not sensitive to cultural differences, can accommodate temporal variations and rely on previous knowledge (definition) as well as experts' opinions.



Doyon, M. and Labrecque, J. (2008), "Functional foods: a conceptual definition", British Food Journal, Vol. 110 No. 11, pp. 1133-1149.



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