Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico

Fiber can help manufacturers meet growing cross-generational demand for functional ingredients

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Fiber can help manufacturers meet growing cross-generational demand for functional ingredients
As the desire to attain a healthier, longer life through diet expands beyond niche groups focused on wellness into the mainstream population, consumers increasingly are looking for functional ingredients they recognize across categories – including in a few unexpected spaces, according an expert from Tate & Lyle.

“Healthy living is all about consumers seeking wellness from the inside out,”​ Beth Nieman Hacker, the director of market research for ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle, told attendees last month at the Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico. She added that while the concept used to be held mainly by seniors or maturing adults pursuing “healthy aging,”​ the trend now is an “integral part of learning across all generations as more people want to improve their lives – starting with adolescents.”

For example, she noted, parents increasingly are looking for products that will help their children’s bodies grow strong so they can be active and productive. In addition, young adults want functional food that provide “beauty from within,” students and older adults want ingredients that will help them focus and improve their cognitive health, and adults of all ages are looking for ingredients that support general well-being to fend off physical and mental decline typically associated with aging.

Fiber offers benefits to consumers of all ages

While many ingredients may check one or two of these boxes, few will check them all and already be familiar to most consumers, Nieman Hacker said. However, she noted, one exception may be fiber – a powerhouse ingredient that offers multiple benefits across different life stages and which the vast majority of consumers want to add to their diet.

She explained that consumers of all ages already understand that fiber can help improve their gut health & laxation, and help them manage their blood sugar and calorie intake by making the feel full longer, but they might not know of some of the more age-specific benefits.

For adolescents, she noted, research suggests prebiotic fibers passed from mother to infant can help improve children’s microbiome health. Fiber also can increase calcium absorption during adolescence for strong bone development as well as help middle-age adults and seniors maintain bone health. For adolescents and middle-aged consumers, fiber can help them manage chronic disease by helping them maintain healthy cholesterol. And finally, Nieman Hacker said, emerging science suggests fiber offers benefits across all ages for metabolic syndrome, immunity and brain health.

With so many benefits, Nieman Hacker said she is not surprised that research conducted by Tate & Lyle found globally about half of consumers wanted to add fiber to their diet – a figure that shot up to 70% in Latin America and 76% in Mexico.

Fiber performs double-duty in indulgent categories

However, Nieman Hacker said she was surprised to learn that many consumers are looking for fiber-rich products not just within expected categories such as cereal, but also in soups and crackers and indulgent items, such as cookies, cakes and even ice cream.

According to research conducted by Tate & Lyle, 55% of consumers said they are very likely to buy cereals high in fiber, followed closely by 49% who said the same about yogurt. Within the indulgent space, 45% of consumer said they were very likely to buy high-fiber cookies, 44% wanted high-fiber cake, and 40% wanted high-fiber ice cream.

“What this tells us, is there are more opportunities to fill the fiber gap throughout the day,”​ she noted, adding many companies already are stepping up to meet this varied demand.

For indulgent products that are typically sweet – such as cookies, cakes and ice cream – the addition of fiber also provides functional benefits to manufacturers looking for ways to reduce sugar, Nieman Hacker said.

“Removing sugar is a balancing act”​ because it not only provides sweetness, but also many of the characteristics consumers associate with indulgent treats, such as browning, crisping and bulking – all of which will suffer when sugar is removed unless it is replaced by something, she explained, adding that fiber can help address all of these.

As a bonus, replacing sugar with fiber “allows you to pull out the negative, and put in the positive,”​ she said.

Some manufacturers are already leveraging the benefits of fiber to help manage sugar reduction, she noted. According to data from Tate & Lyle, in the last five years, 13% of products launched with no/low/reduced carb claims had fiber while 10% of products launched with low/no/reduced sugar claims had fiber and 7% of products launched with low/no/reduced glycemic index claims had fiber ingredients.

Answering consumer demand beyond sugar reduction

Early movers also are using the power of fiber to attract consumers beyond just the sugar and carb reduction space – especially in Latin America, Nieman Hacker said.

“In the past five years, through Mintel data, we see product launches with soluble fiber as an ingredient and claim has grown”​ 33% in Latin America, Nieman Hacker said. This is higher than the 18% increase in Asia Pacific, 15% in North America and 10% in the Middle East and Africa, she added.

Most of the launches have been in the soups, sauces and dressings space, which saw a 32% increase in launches with fiber in the past five years globally. Coming in second was bakery at 26%, followed by 23% in beverages and 14% in dairy products, she said.

Even though many players are already maximizing the potential of fiber as a functional ingredient, Nieman Hacker said there is still plenty of room for growth going forward.

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