Fiber forward: Where are fiber food ingredient trends heading?

Nutritional Outlook, Volume 24, Issue 9

The future of fiber ingredients looks bright.

Fiber’s got a lot going for it. One of the biggest boons is consumer recognition. As an ingredient, fiber’s perceived healthfulness is the highest among consumers, according to the 2021 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), with 56% of respondents actively trying to consume fiber. For manufacturers, fiber also boasts a lot of advantages. Fiber ingredients can improve the texture and stability of baked goods and even yogurts, help with sugar reduction, and add valuable digestive and cardiovascular health benefits.

According to the IFIC survey, a majority of consumers (92%) try to get fiber from food, but 1 in 5 still use supplements for fiber. To help consumers achieve their daily recommended fiber intake, offering well-tolerated products is paramount. “It can be difficult to meet the daily recommended value of fiber of 28 g for a typical 2,000-calorie-per-day diet through consumption of foods,” explains Sarah Diedrich, marketing director, sweetening solutions & fibers, ADM (Chicago, IL). “To conveniently add more fiber, some consumers look to foods fortified with added fiber, but these products can be associated with gastric distress. Our research finds that nearly 70% of consumers would not purchase a product again if it caused gastrointestinal discomfort.”

Immune Health

Fiber is associated with a number of health benefits as science on the gut microbiome improves. One growing interest area is the connection between digestive health and immunity.

“The early research suggests that prebiotic dietary fibers, such as our Promitor Soluble Fiber, may help support immune health, and research continues regarding this potential benefit,” says Melissa Kaczmarczyk, principal scientist, Global Nutrition, Tate & Lyle (London). “Furthermore, a lack of dietary fiber intake can have negative impacts on the gut barrier and result in increased susceptibility to pathogens.”

“Consumers’ concern for their immune health has only intensified throughout the pandemic, with 65% of global consumers more conscious of immunity due to COVID-19,” says Diedrich, citing research from FMCG Gurus. And they’re looking at fiber. “In fact, of the 87% of U.S. consumers interested in products with ingredients that may support immune function, 65% are specifically interested in fiber. We anticipate an increase in the development of fiber ingredients that link to immune function–supporting benefits as consumer demand grows.”

Prebiotic Promise

Prebiotic claims can promote the digestive and immune health benefits of fiber products, but manufacturers should be careful not to confuse consumers.

“The introduction of terms like prebiotic may cause confusion without proper explanation, but the use of this term shows a greater interest in trying to understand the complexities of gut health,” Kaczmarczyk says. “While consumers today have a greater understanding of gut health, additional education needs to be provided to further explain the differences and benefits that prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics can have on the human microbiome. Additionally, not all consumers today know that many types of soluble fibers are prebiotics.”

She adds, “Over the past 90 days, social media posts confirm interest in ‘fiber’ and ‘prebiotics,’ but the combination of these two terms does not appear as frequently. This data supports that while prebiotics are being talked about alongside fiber, additional steps need to be taken to educate consumers on the link between fibers and prebiotics.”

According to Nicole Redini, category strategy manager, NOAM, Tate & Lyle, not enough manufacturers leverage the fiber content in their products. “From an opportunity standpoint, only around 2%-3% of food and beverage U.S. launches make a high-/added-fiber claim, which may indicate that while several products contain fiber, consumers may not be fully aware of the benefits,” says Redini. “In addition, less than 1% of U.S. food and drink launches contain a prebiotic claim. This presents an opportunity for brands to launch products with high-fiber, prebiotic, and gut health claims to ensure consumers are aware of the benefits they are receiving by consuming products containing fiber.”

With the development of well-tolerated and versatile fiber ingredients like ADM’s Fibersol and Tate & Lyle’s Promitor Soluble Fibers, fiber can play in many products. “The category with the greatest share of new product launches containing soluble fiber ingredients remains snack, cereal, and energy bars, according to Mintel GNPD,” says Redini. “However, in 2020 and 2021, other categories such as sweet biscuits and cookies, cold cereals, vitamins and dietary supplements, and ice cream saw an increased share in launches containing fiber. There has also been a continued rise in the launch of fiber-based gummy supplements over the past year to support gut health.”

The takeaway? Fiber has a lot to look forward to—and so do consumers.