In today’s food and beverage marketplace, manufacturers are navigating through an ever-changing tide of consumer demand for ‘better-for-you’ options. Digestive health, less sugar, fewer calories, cleaner labels, low cholesterol, and the list goes on. So how can we meet these demands for health and wellness without sacrificing the great taste and texture consumers expect?
While there are many ingredients that can help achieve specific claims and functionality, there is an unsung hero in the food science toolkit that can help achieve most, if not all of it—fibre. Not only do fibres help manufacturers market ‘better-for-you’ products, they can also help solve significant formulation challenges.
Going Into Fibres
In brief, ‘fibre’ refers to edible carbohydrate polymers, which are neither digested nor absorbed in the human small intestine, and also have beneficial physiological effect demonstrated by generally accepted scientific evidence.
Typical dietary fibres can be found especially in foods at the bottom of the food pyramid i.e. those that people need intake most of. These include carbohydrates such as rice, noodles, bread or cereal, as well as vegetables and fruits.
Historical data shows that humans have been taking in fibre from thousands of years ago, and it is considered as a macronutrient that has an important contribution to a healthy diet. According to World Health Organisation recommendations, people should take about 25-38 g of fibre daily, which equates approximately to three bananas, 100 g of berries, two apples, 500 g of tomatoes and 150 g of peas.
For those living in cities, this may not be easy to achieve since processed food makes up a major part of daily meals. And fibre is not something that humans can go without, actually. Fibres provide beneficial physiological effects, such as decreasing intestinal transit time, increasing stool bulk and frequency, and improving stool consistency. With these benefits, we can then have a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Other benefits of fibres also include offering prebiotic effects, lowering total cholesterol, or a replacement for sugars in products if they give a sweet taste.
It is no wonder that extensive research over the years has shown that high fibre diets are associated with reduced risks for heart disease and diabetes, as well as good gut health and digestion.
The ‘Fibre-Ant’ Opportunity For Manufacturers
As the ongoing health and wellness trend spreads worldwide, consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of maintaining their health. This comes with a growing awareness too of dietary deficiency and the health benefits of consuming fibre. As such, more consumers are becoming more conscious of food and beverage products that contain added fibre.
Also, as much as 56 percent of consumers globally say they want more fibre in their diet, according to GfK Roper Reports in 2010. However, despite this desire to consume more, most consumers do not meet the daily requirement for fibre every day.
The opportunity for manufacturers here is therefore in the formulation of new fibre-enriched food and beverage products which would help consumers increase their daily consumption of dietary fibre.
This is a growing category as more manufacturers supply these fibre-enriched products under their product offerings. According to a health and wellness trend survey done in 2013 by the Natural Marketing Institute, revenue from dietary fibres is estimated to have a compound annual growth rate of 14.1 percent between 2012 and 2017. More importantly, consumers have indicated a willingness to pay a premium for such products across many categories.
The potential for growth in this category is even higher for Asia Pacific manufacturers due to the region’s large, untapped market, booming food sector, rapid industrial development and low production cost, reported MarketsandMarkets in 2013. Therefore, manufacturers would do well to take advantage of the increasing consumer demand for products in this category.
The Five C’s
Various types of dietary fibres are available in the market today, and manufacturers should note that not all of these share the same functional benefits—these are dependent on the structural and physicochemical diversity of the various compounds belonging to the ‘dietary fibre’ group.
In order to determine the best fibre option for their product, manufacturers can use the criteria deemed ‘the Five C’s’: Consumer sentiment, digestive Comfort, Clean labels, nutritional Claims and Cost in use.
Despite growing interest in health and wellness, taste continues to be top of mind for consumers. In fact, 90 percent of consumers in the US say taste is their top purchase driver. Other sensory attributes like colour and texture will also make or break consumers’ eating experience.
Since fibres can also play a part in the final product’s mouthfeel and taste, this is another factor manufacturers need to consider when choosing which fibres to use. Some fibres may not compromise on sensorial aspects such as taste and texture, while others might give a sweeter taste.
Fibres with a clean taste, neutral colour, and texture without grittiness will increase overall consumer acceptance of finished products.
Manufacturers are challenged to deliver the enhanced nutrition benefits of fibre that consumers demand, but some fibres, particularly at high inclusion levels, can cause digestive discomfort.
For example, some fibres can provide over two times the digestive tolerance of inulin. Research shows up to 65 g per day can be consumed without discomfort, which is well above the daily recommended intake of fibre.
Around the world, there is a growing trend for foods and beverages made with ingredients consumers understand and recognise. In the Asia Pacific region, nearly 25 percent of new product launches were positioned as label friendly in 2013.
Depending on your target audience, selecting a fibre that offers consumer-friendly labelling options may provide additional appeal needed to boost product sales.
As mentioned previously, fibres can help food and beverage manufacturers achieve much more than a ‘front-of-pack’ fibre claim. Their inherent nutritional benefits mixed with versatile functional benefits make a variety of claims possible.
From ‘maintains healthy blood cholesterol’ with oat beta glucan to ‘sugar free’ with polydextrose, choosing the right fibre can provide that extra advantage on the grocery shelf.
Cost In Use
Fibres differ in stability levels during food processing, which may impact cost in use. For example, polydextrose is stable in low pH and after Ultra High Temperature (UHT) processing, so an overdose is not needed. However, fibres such as oligofructose and inulin will break down into sugars when incorporated into low pH or when treated in UHT or pasteurisation.
When formulating using fibres with poor stability, manufacturers have to overcompensate for fibre lost due to high heat and shear during processing, acid in low-pH systems, and long shelf life. Choosing a fibre with superior stability may result in manufacturing efficiencies.
While fibres are extremely versatile, they are not all created equal. Manufacturers should partner with a supplier with a full portfolio of fibre options in order to effectively walk through ‘the Five C’s’ and determine the best fit for their application and target audience.