Last year, the EU Commission authorized a new Article 13.5 health claim stating that when non-digestible carbohydrates are used as sugar replacers, these ingredients can induce a lower postprandial blood glucose rise compared to food and drinks containing sugar. This new claim backing blood glucose benefits goes beyond an already existing and more general health claim previously approved by the Commission. It also offers formulators and brands a means to reaffirm the blood sugar health benefits of their products and also perhaps—if they play their cards right—attract new consumers to the category.
Jon Peters, president of Beneo Inc. (Manheim, Germany), believes that this new claim will spur interest in soluble fibers like Beneo’s Orafti chicory root ingredients going forward. The new claim puts “a new focus on fibers,” he says, adding that it “confirm[s] again the versatile benefits chicory root fibers have on our health and well-being.”
The new claim is already making waves stateside, he adds. “An EU health claim is a strong and convincing argument also for the U.S. manufacturer” looking to leverage these ingredients in products for healthy blood-sugar management.
Beneo says that its Technology Center is capitalizing on this exciting time by developing new recipes and formulations that spotlight chicory root fiber’s flexibility. Among the newest developments are chocolate chip cookies, with chicory root fiber reducing sugar content by 30%. There is also a milk chocolate that includes both Orafti fiber as well as Beneo’s Isomalt sugar-beet sugar replacer, overall reducing sugar content by more than two-thirds and opening the door to a “no added sugar” claim. Peters says Beneo recently translated these research and development strides into actual applications for the marketplace, specifically partnering up with a nutritional bar manufacturer. The resulting product carries a bevy of attractive claims: low sugar, low net carbohydrate, high fiber, and low glycemic.
There’s no doubt that functional-food ingredient suppliers and manufacturers are on board when it comes to the positive outlook on this claim. But, what about consumers? Do they truly understand the benefits of these ingredients? Will this new health claim help quell confusion? In truth, the jury’s still out on that question.
If you ask Scott Turowski, technical sales manager at chicory-root inulin supplier Sensus America Inc. (Lawrenceville, NJ), there’s more to the story. A consumer’s potential for understanding, in his view, depends on the particular consumer.
“There are segments of the population, such as diabetics, that understand how ingredients like chicory root fiber impact the glycemic response of foods, as well as what that means for their diet,” he says. Beyond that, though, when it comes to the general consumer population, he maintains that understanding remains limited. Still, he believes there is potential for the new EU claim to increase interest and, as a result, clarity. But it’s just a jumping-off point.
At Ingredion Inc. (Westchester, IL), marketing manager of nutrition Patrick Luchsinger also sees the health claim as a springboard for creative marketing. “Many factors determine how consumers embrace or understand a health claim or ingredient,” he says. “Some factors include: What type of food item is the health claim in? What type of consumer is reading the claim? How appealing is the health claim to the target consumer? How is the claim communicated in marketing and on the packaging?” (Ingredion’s Hi-Maize resistant starch is able to use the EU health claim: “Replacing digestible starches with resistant starch in a meal contributes to a reduction in the blood glucose rise after that meal.”)
Indeed, the claim is just the start. The onus is now on brands to communicate the benefits on their labels as effectively as possible. “I think one of the biggest challenges with some of these ingredients is communicating to consumers the various benefits in a way that is easily understood,” Turowski says. “When applicable, benefits such as ‘sustained energy’ may be more easily understood than indicating a product has a low glycemic index. Consumers definitely understand benefits that they can relate to.”
Peters agrees that condition-specific marketing may be a solution capable of quelling some confusion in this area. “Terms like low glycemic or GI mean little to consumers,” he says. Instead, it might make more sense to target a specific goal such as weight management because “effective weight management is only possible hand-in-hand with blood sugar management,” he explains. “Lower insulin levels support weight management, and this can be achieved with lower blood glucose levels.” He hopes targeting the ever-growing population interested in weight management can help grow understanding overall when it comes to slow-release carbohydrates and fiber.
The bottom line is that a science-backed claim can really only help the blood-sugar-management market if brands take the proper steps to capitalize on it. “Health claims can be effective in changing or influencing consumer and purchasing behaviors. They can play a role in educating the consumer as well,” says Luchsinger. And, perhaps, the timing is perfect. “Consumers can be very savvy when purchasing food products with health claims,” he adds. “They can instantly look up information on their phone or tablet to determine for themselves the validity of a health claim and the science behind it.”
Sidebar: To Market, To Market
According to the American Diabetes Association, 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year. Among those suffering from diabetes—a whopping 29.1 million by the association’s last count—about 8 million of them are undiagnosed. Prediabetes is on the rise, too, with 86 million suffering.
With diabetes a top concern in America, it’s no surprise that when SPINS predicted its top trends for 2017, “low sugar,” “no added sugar,” and “sugar free” product claims topped the list. Plus, SPINS specifically cited chicory root as an ingredient to watch. The market researcher maintains that the ingredient’s popularity will be boosted by the new EU claim as well as the new added-sugars feature on FDA’s nutrition facts label, which may influence formulators to cut their levels of the sweet stuff and opt instead for a natural alternative.
Consumer behaviors, too, are on track for positive growth in this area. Market research from Mintel released in December 2016 showed that 84% of consumers are limiting the amount of sugar in their diet, and that a quarter of consumers overall desire natural sugar substitutes over artificial ones. Most encouraging of all, perhaps, is that Mintel found iGens and Millennials to be more likely than older consumers to seek natural options—and more likely to pay more for them.