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Fiber maintains popularity through the years

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Fiber has the best reputation and is the most sought-after among “healthy” ingredients, IFIC consumer data revealed.

The food and beverage industry, like others, can find itself fixated on an ever-changing variety of trends. And while it’s exciting to follow the ups and downs of specialty diets, sustainability innovations and exotic ingredients, there's something special about ingredients that stand the test of time.

Fiber is one of these ingredients, reliably delivering for brands and consumers alike year after year.

According to the 2020 Food & Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), fiber has the best reputation among healthy ingredients, topping health perceptions of whole grains, plant proteins, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids. It should come as no surprise, then, that the survey also revealed fiber is the most sought-after ingredient—with more than half of respondents saying they’re trying to consume more of it.

When it comes to sales, the numbers reflect this preference. SPINS proprietary data (referenced throughout this article) indicated sales of products featuring functional fiber grew nearly 7%, and products with high fiber (over 5 g) grew nearly 12% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 24, 2021, across natural and conventional channels.

It’s worth examining how fiber continues to stay on top—weathering fluctuating trends and a pandemic that turned consumer habits upside down.

Brittany DeMarco, manager of marketing and communications at Top Health Ingredients Inc., suggested fiber historically benefited from a close association with heart health, cholesterol and diabetes when these issues were in the spotlight. Today, it’s popular for a different reason, fitting nicely within growing digestive health trends. According to a report published in September 2020 by Mintel titled “Patent Insights; dietary fibres in food and drinks,” 86% of U.S. consumers have either tried or would be willing to try high-fiber foods and drinks for digestive relief.

Hand in hand with digestive health trends is an increased focus on the gut microbiome and its role in maintaining a balanced immune system. “Consumers are learning more about the role that their microbiome plays in ensuring their overall health and well-being,” said Giacomo Cattaneo, global director at EverGrain Ingredients. “That realization is driving more consumers to understand the potential that fiber has to provide sustenance to the good bacteria in their gut, which is translating to more interest in fiber ingredients.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also driven interest in fiber, with one study indicating the makeup of the gut microbiome may influence the severity of COVID-19, as well as the magnitude of the immune system’s response to the infection (Gut. 2021;70:698-706). Further, researchers found imbalances in the microbiome may also contribute to ongoing inflammatory symptoms post-infection. “Dietary fibers and prebiotics are the harbingers of a well-functioning, healthy system, and with all eyes concentrated on strengthening immunity through food, it’s no wonder we’re seeing steady growth in this market,” DeMarco stated.

Reinventing popular ingredients

A large portion of the fiber market is still made up of time-tested ingredients and established product categories. According to Mintel's report, breakfast cereals remain important for the fiber category, housing the highest percentage of high- and added-fiber product launches. On the shelf, strong sales mirror this trend, with SPINS reporting a 7% sales increase of high-fiber, shelf-stable cold cereal over the course of the past year.

Snacks also remain an important area for fiber, as 55% of U.S. consumers consider high fiber content an important attribute when purchasing a healthy snack. SPINS reported sales of high-fiber baked goods also grew roughly 30% in the past year.

In terms of ingredients, Mintel identified inulin as the most popular fiber used in food and drinks, as well as the most popular choice for product launches with high- or added-fiber claims.

This article was excerpted from “Fiber remains a functional mainstay,” which takes a deeper look at fiber ingredients, formulation, innovation and future possibilities. To read the full piece, visit the “Gut check: Fiber fuels innovation” digital magazine.

Melissa Kvidahl is a freelance writer with 10 years of experience covering the natural products industry, from food and beverage to personal care, from research developments to market trends. Her work appears in a number of industry publications, including Natural Products Insider, Natural Foods Merchandiser, Delicious Living and more. She lives and writes in New Jersey. She can be contacted at melissakvidahl.com.

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