Swiss food giant Nestlé plans to cash in on the public's appetite for beauty by selling so-called "cosmetic foods".
The Vevey-based company has joined forces with the French cosmetics firm, L'Oréal, to develop foods that will satisfy people's demands for youth and good looks.
"We will develop special food products that have cosmetic effects," said François Xavier Perroud, spokesman for Nestle. "You will eat a product that will have a demonstrative effect on your aesthetics."
The European Commission on Monday approved the joint venture, called Laboratoires Inneov, under which the companies will offer foods containing nutrients designed to improve the quality of skin, hair and nails.
"The two companies were brought together... to find new ways of satisfying consumer demand during a time when wellness and good looks have become more important," Perroud told swissinfo.
But some analysts are already suggesting that cosmetic foods are simply a ploy to move expensive products and that they offer few, if any, benefits.
"From the nutritional point of view, I don't see any necessity for this food," said David Fäh, a nutritional scientist at the Swiss Association for Nutrition.
"I think these foods will only work if you have a nutritional deficiency in certain areas. If you eat healthily, consuming fruits and vegetables, then it will have no additional benefits," he added.
However, Nestlé maintains that Inneov will ensure that the products are scientifically proven to work. "We believe that products consumed over several weeks or so could quite easily have the desired effect," said Perroud.
L'Oréal says it is the first time that the cosmetics and food industries have joined forces in such a venture. Under their agreement, Nestlé and L'Oréal will each own 50 per cent of Inneov.
Analysts see cosmetic foods as a new area in the field of so-called "functional foods" - foods that have "scientifically proven benefits" and contain added ingredients to improve health.
Last year, Novartis withdrew functional foods from trial markets in Switzerland, Austria and Britain because consumers had been put off by the price and taste of the products.
Nestlé say they expect to start marketing their new foods in 2003, but the company is still awaiting regulatory approval for the joint venture.
by Karin Kamp