Rising levels of obesity are linked to an associated global increase in the occurrence of diabetes. One would expect, then, to see a concurrent increase in food and drink products targeted more specifically at this growing consumer group. But that is not the case. In fact, diabetic foods remain largely confined to the specialist dietetic and health foods markets in most countries, while people with diabetes are encouraged to focus more generally on healthy eating, a balanced diet, and informed food choices.
Less than 0.3% of global food and drink launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months ending June 2014 had a specific diabetic positioning. Bakery products and confectionery accounted for a combined one-third of launches, with prepared foods, spreads, sweeteners, cereals, and soft drinks each accounting for 8%–9.5%. These seven categories were responsible for over three-quarters of total launches with a diabetic positioning.
Low GI versus Diabetic
The glycemic index (GI) is extensively used as a tool to help those with diabetes manage their condition by providing a measure of the effect of foods on blood glucose levels post-consumption. Developed in the early 1980s for that purpose, in the late 1990s and early 2000s it was promoted more actively as a means of weight control, undergoing a period of massive awareness and increased use thanks to “low GI” labels on a broad range of food and drinks. Mainstream interest in GI has since fallen back. GI was featured on just 0.3% of global food and drink launches in the 12 months ending June 2014—only marginally ahead of launches with a diabetic positioning.
North America accounted for nearly one-third of launches using a low-GI positioning, ahead of Europe, but it is in Australasia where interest is highest. The region accounts for 12% of global launches using low-GI claims, equivalent to 1.5% of total food and drink introductions across the two countries—or five times the global average share of low-GI activity. Australia, in particular, has a very strong GI symbol program, promoting the use of a GI label on a wide range of mainstream food and drink products since 2002. Not all products carry the logo, however; many simply prominently label products as low-GI, often in association with other benefits. Carman’s Dark Choc Blueberry Superfood Bars, for example, feature “low GI,” “wheat free,” and “source of fiber” claims on front of the pack, as well as a focus on the Australian provenance to add extra appeal.
Cereal products dominated GI launch activity, accounting for 22% of the global total low-GI introductions, with oat products, ancient and alternative grains, and pasta particular areas of low-GI focus. Sugar and sweeteners took second place, with 14.5% of low-GI launches, ahead of bakery products, dairy products, ready meals, confectionery, and soft drinks.
The development of new and alternative sweeteners is also significant. Relatively long-established natural ingredients such as agave and monk fruit have moved into the mainstream, as have newer natural sweeteners such as stevia, recently approved for use in the United States and the EU. Some alternative sweeteners enable the launch of blood sugar–friendlier food and drinks, although launches are often also promoted to the generally health-aware.
There are a growing number of reduced-sugar or sugar-free tabletop alternatives, such as Sweet Leaf Sweet Drops in the United States, marketed as “zero GI.” These sweeteners are also used as alternative ingredients in a wide range of food and drink products, as exemplified by Koochikoo’s sugar-free cookies in the United States, which use monk fruit, erythritol, and stevia in different blends.
Still, diabetes-specific products do continue launching in the specialist dietetic sector in many countries, and it is mainly in these countries where some products are labeled specifically as diabetic options. In Spain, for example, Laboratorios Esteve teamed up with Calidad Pascual in early 2014 to launch its Diabalance 15-strong range of low-GI health foods, including pasta, bread, desserts, snacks, beverages, and biscuits. In the UK, mainstream chocolate company Thorntons also recently launched a range of no-added-sugar diabetic chocolate products and sweets.
For the most part, however, an increasing number of products are taking a more mainstream position targeted not only to people with diabetes but also to those with other health concerns and those concerned with general well being. Increasingly, many are also marketed on a multibenefit platform. Examples include the Free’ist range of sugar-free and no-added-sugar products launched in the UK in 2013, encompassing cookies, biscuits, wafers, chocolate bars, and jams. There are also a number of meal replacement–type products featuring rice and pasta alternatives made from konjac. These tend to be positioned on a number of platforms, including low calorie, low fat, sugar free, gluten free, and source of fiber, in addition to being diabetic friendly. Examples of this type of product include the Eat Water Slim range in the UK and the Vitanu range in Germany.