Fiber trends see new highs as COVID-19 puts wellness top of mind
24 Jun 2020 --- The fiber space is ripe for innovation and many of its staple trends such as organic, clean label, gut health, as well as sugar reduction, are enjoying renewed popularity due to COVID-19 leading wellness demands. This is according to an expert roundtable, which speaks to NutritionInsight about how industry is coping with the pandemic’s aftermath, and the future trends expected to influence the functional fibers sphere.
“The fiber trend currently builds on the two pillars of nutrient enrichment and nutrient replacement. Fibers are a favorable nutrient that contributes to a well-balanced diet. Pattern changes in today’s typical western diet lead to an excessively low fiber intake. Consumers are aware of the detrimental health effect, but it is hard for them to change their dietary habits to reach 25 g fibers per day, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO),” explains Annegret Stier, Regulatory & Nutrition Expert at J. Rettenmaier & Söhne (JRS).
Stier adds that fiber-enriched food provides a simple solution for consumers to close the fiber gap. In contrast to a too low fiber consumption, consumers eat too much undesirable, energy-dense nutrients. Hence, it is also necessary to support consumers by substituting those nutrients and making products healthier. Due to their nutritional and sensory attributes, fibers are well suited for food reformulation and serve the boosting consumer demand for healthy food products.
“There is also growing consumer awareness that a healthy and balanced microbiome has a positive influence on the overall body. This remains a big focus for Beneo’s research, especially as inulin and oligofructose are the only plant-based proven prebiotics according to the International Scientific Association for Pro- and Prebiotics (ISAPP),” says Annelore De Boe, Product Manager Functional Fibres at Beneo.
Consumers worldwide are also increasingly seeking out organic products and many willing to pay a premium price for them. “As requests for organic chicory root fiber continue to grow, we are pleased to be able to offer this solution to our customers from September onwards, and will be first in the market to do so,” De Boe adds.
According to Susanne Sörgel, Senior Director, Platform Strategy, Pectin and Carrageenan at CP Kelco, the functional fiber space is ready for further innovation. “We are developing new grades to meet the needs of formulators.” Fiber is finding its way in many different F&B applications and it is important that formulators have a nature-based tool to help them deliver new tastes and textures, she notes.
Trending fiber applications
Fibers are found wherever other nutrients or ingredients are reduced, Stier of JRS says. Increasing numbers of products claiming “low energy,” “low fat” and “no added sugars” indicate that this is a broad application field, she asserts. In particular, fibers with a clean label image currently offer great potential within this field. Aside from nutrients, consumers also attempt to avoid or limit other food groups such as meat. Due to their fibrous structure, fibers are also suitable in imitating the natural meat structure, Stier says.
CP Kelco’s Sörgel explains that the company sees opportunities via the functionality its citrus fiber product has in condiments, dairy, fruit applications and the alternative protein space. “Our Nutrava ingredient also acts as an egg and starch substitution for creating vegan applications such as a mayonnaise-like dressing. Fiber can support sugar and fat reduction too. It acts as a bulking agent and brings back lost volume,” she notes.
Beneo’s De Boe notes that fiber-related claims are proving particularly popular in certain categories such as the Cereals and Cereal Bars category. “Beneo has also assessed consumer preferences toward ‘fiber’ and the term ‘prebiotic’ across Europe and more than two thirds of respondents (67 percent) see the benefit of fiber enrichment linked to breakfast cereals and bread. Meanwhile, 61 percent like the idea of fiber enrichment linked to cereal bars,” she adds.
“In addition, more than half of those surveyed found the idea of fiber enrichment in both pasta (54 percent) and yogurt (53 percent) products at least somewhat appealing. As a result, these are all prime applications for fiber-enrichment and present significant opportunities for F&B manufacturers,” De Boer affirms.
COVID-19 impact on consumer demands
There are at least two possibilities arising from the pandemic situation, according to Sörgel. “Wellness may become more of a lifestyle focus with consumers seeking foods and beverages that offer added functional benefits, including immunity-boosters. That could make fiber and gut health more important. Also, due to the global recession, some consumers may be cutting their shopping budgets,” she flags.
“The COVID-19 situation has transformed the way all of us do business. However, with our primary focus on nature-based ingredients, we have been able to pivot quickly and respond to changing customer needs. Our global supply chain team has remained vigilant in managing the continuity of material flow and logistics to customers,” she adds.
For JRS, the combination of a global and local distribution network provided reliable delivery capability, says Stier.
eat and drink healthier as a result of COVID-19. From a consumer perspective, this means topics such as immune health, staying fit and healthy are all front of mind at present, and therefore, broader issues such as gut health and weight management are also of increased interest to them. Along these lines, prebiotics are playing an increasingly important part in helping consumers boost their fiber consumption, while promoting digestive health,” De Boer further explains.“The pandemic has prompted a significant focus on health and well-being amongst consumers, as they plan to
Future trends in fiber
Looking ahead, JRS’s Stier predicts that gut health will continue to be a mega-trend. “There is a greater understanding of the important role of the gut microbiota and the relevance of insoluble alongside the soluble fibers. Consumers also pay attention to the gut microbiota debate, which offers a big opportunity to draw more attention toward fibers,” she says.
“At CP Kelco, we think that functional fiber has a yet-untapped role to play in the alternative protein segment – from water-binding capabilities for meat analogs to adding emulsion stabilization, viscosity and mouthfeel to dairy alternatives,” Sörgel highlights.
CP Kelco is also exploring the potential for pectin to protect probiotics in the gut and to support lean microbiota composition. “We collaborated with Chr. Hansen, Netherlands-based TNO, Denmark’s KMC and three academic institutions on a study. One of the preliminary findings is that pectin can help bacteria survive the gastrointestinal tract and, since pectin is a carbohydrate that we can tailor into various molecular structures, it may have a prebiotic effect too. Because citrus fiber is made from intact citrus peel byproduct, it retains pectin content, therefore boosting its potential,” she concludes.
As overall health and wellness continue to be at the top of consumers’ minds, fiber and its range of uses and applications is expected to flourish with more innovative NPD. From sugar reduction to gut health, as well as meat alternatives, fiber remains a key ingredient.
By Kristiana Lalou
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