Consumer awareness of digestive health is on the rise. According to HFI, 78% of global consumers agree that their digestive health is extremely or very important.
Data from Innova Market Insights suggests that two out of three consumers worldwide agree that gut health is key to achieving holistic well-being, and FMCG Gurus has calculated that well over half of global consumers say they regularly seek out products foods and beverages with digestive health properties.
Additionally, global interest in prebiotics has increased from 51% in 2018 to 61% in 2022, according to HFI, suggesting they are now entering the mainstream for consumers around the world.
With gut health becoming increasingly important to consumers, carrying a “high fiber” claim is an attractive option for qualifying brands.
But is digestive health “sexy”? It could be argued that gut bacteria and healthy gut foods are not as readily marketable as other nutrition claims on packages.
So how can brands increase “high fiber” appeal? FoodNavigator investigates.
Fiber vs Protein
Although the claim “high in fibre” is growing, it still does not have the same appeal as other claims, such as “high in protein”, agreed German ingredient supplier Döhler.
“Protein has been associated with aspects of lifestyle such as health, vitality and fitness, while fiber has yet to gain traction in a marketing sense, to also connect to health, vitality and fitness. to physical fitness – the scientific evidence is there to back it up!” Christine von Brunn, product manager at Döhler, told FoodNavigator.
An underlying problem here, according to von Brunn, is that people can meet their protein needs with “little effort.” Protein is available in many staple foods and with the growing trend of ‘high protein’ foods, drinks and snacks, consumer choice continues to expand rapidly.
Fiber, on the other hand, is harder to find without making a concerted effort.
“If we don’t make a habit of seeking high fiber foods, it’s very likely that we won’t be consuming enough of them for optimal health,” she explained. This is evidenced by the famous “fiber deficiency”, where fiber intake is below dietary recommendations.
“Expanding market access and availability of high-fiber products – whether through reformulation, fortification or supplementation in foods and beverages – is crucial.”
Another Germany-based ingredient supplier, Beneo, disagrees that fiber is less popular than protein among consumers, citing a recent Mintel study showing that consumers in France, Germany, in Italy, Spain, the UK, the Netherlands and Norway are equally interested. high in fiber and protein.
“The industry may not yet be fully aware of this fact, but from a consumer perspective the interest is definitely there,” Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo, told this publication.
Consumers are “very” interested in ingredients with added fibre, agreed ADM, whose European headquarters are in Switzerland. “Our research shows it’s the number one ingredient consumers want to add to their diets for reasons such as digestion, weight management and satiety,” said global chief marketing officer of ingredient supplier, Microbiome Solutions, Vaughn DuBow.
“On top of that, among consumers who made dietary and lifestyle changes because they knew about the gut microbiota, 64% increased their fiber intake.”
How can brands increase “fiber-rich” attractiveness?
If a growing number of consumers are aware of gut health, digestion and the microbiome, how can brands ensure that their “high fiber” products stand out on the shelf?
Making the fiber look sexy can be “difficult,” Döhler agreed. Fiber is a mature ingredient, and in its raw form is usually brown in color. Fiber has “never been so trendy before,” von Brunn explained.
However, the product manager believes in the power of education, communication and marketing to change consumer perceptions.
“The launch of prebiotic soda trends in the United States is a great example of what can be done with fiber, linking gut health and, by extension, immunity and mental health as key topics to exploit that can really connect with the consumer.”
Highlighting the “multidimensional” health benefits of fiber is key to improving its image, von Brunn suggested. Fiber-rich foods also provide slow-release energy, for example, which makes them useful for managing cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
And much more “sophisticated” fibers are available these days that offer the health benefits of fiber, along with other benefits such as “natural” softness and a product’s mouthfeel, he said. she continued, which can serve as a sugar substitute.
Given that people are interested in fiber – a recent HFI survey suggested this is the case for 81% of global consumers – brands need to ensure that they market their products in an “attractive” way, has said Beneo’s Sentko, and that the right message about fiber is reaching consumers.
One approach, she suggested, is to link fiber to the specific benefits consumers seek, such as “improved digestive health.”
“Consumers associate digestive health with many benefits, including overall physical health, immune function, and general mental well-being. By reinforcing this on-pack communication, consumers can make purchasing decisions more easily…”
According to ADM, many people associate “high-fiber” products with digestive upset, which DuBow says could deter consumers from purchasing these products. “In fact, our research shows that almost 70% of consumers would no longer buy a product if it caused gastrointestinal discomfort.”
While this may pose a challenge for brands developing fiber-rich apps, the microbiome expert believes incorporating the “right” solutions can help ease consumer concerns. “Furthermore, ‘high fiber’ need not be at odds with other functional attributes.”
Get creative to bridge the “fiber gap”
While consumer interest in gut health seems to be growing rapidly, the “lack of fiber” persists.
Preliminary results from a recent consumer survey conducted in Italy, Germany and the UK by Limagrain Ingredients in partnership with the French scientific advisory board CREDOC, suggested that 90% of participants consumed less than recommended levels of fiber food.
Overall, Döhler observed an increase in consumer awareness that a healthy gut is “crucial” to their overall well-being and helps prevent disease. Yet in this “remarkable” phase, a “disconnect” exists between the consumer’s apparent knowledge and their actual food intake, von Brunn suggested.
“Fiber is recognized by the consumer as an ingredient that is good for the gut, but population-wide research shows us that there is a clear ‘fiber deficit’.”
In the United States, for example, the Institute of Medicine recommends people consume up to 38 g per day, depending on gender and age. Yet the actual amount consumed is around 16g per day, as reported by the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES).
“Hopefully, with the growing interest in gut health, the momentum will quickly turn into improved fiber intake across the population as a whole,” continued von Brunn.
“The food and beverage industry is also showing how to help bridge the ‘fiber divide’ by being more creative with the use of fiber in their products and how they communicate fiber to the customer.”
As the gut microbiome sector expands, probiotic ingredients are being incorporated in “various” formats to increase fiber content, ADM’s DuBow argued.
“From 3D printed gummies and stick packs, to clusters, sparkling waters, RTD teas and bars, convenient offerings are ‘appearing’ more frequently as people search for personalized, accessible and functional options that can adapt to their unique way of life.”