Consumer awareness of the benefits of prebiotic fibers and probiotics for digestive health has risen steadily in the US over the past five years, according to a new survey into functional foods.
In an online survey of 1,000 adults conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in March and April 2011, 81 percent of respondents said they were aware probiotics might be good for the digestive system while 79 percent said the same for prebiotic fibers.
In 2009, awareness levels were around 72 percent for probiotics and 60 percent for prebiotic fibers, while in 2007 they were just 58 percent for probiotics and 48 percent for prebiotic fibers.
Fruit, veg and fish oil
However, neither prebiotics nor probiotics even made the top 10 of foods/food components thought to provide health benefits when consumers were asked – unprompted - to cite examples of healthful foods/ingredients.
When asked what “food or food component comes to mind that is thought to have health benefits beyond basic nutrition”, consumers came up with the following list:
- Fruits/Vegetables 70%
- Fish/Fish Oil 18%
- Dairy 16%
- Herbs/Spices 10%
- Whole Grains 10%
- Fiber 7%
- Meat and Poultry 7%
- Tea/Green tea 5%
- Nuts 4%
- Vitamins/Supplements 3%
The top two health concerns were cardiovascular disease and weight, (replicating the findings of the 2007 and 2009 surveys) followed by cancer, exercise and sleep.
Notably, rising awareness did not always translate in a claimed change in purchasing behavior, however, Elizabeth Rahavi, IFIC associate director of health and wellness told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
“More people might be aware of diet and health relationships, but it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily buying more [functional foods]. A lot of people still think the products are too expensive or that they won’t taste good.”
Probiotics, prebiotics and consumers
Market researchers and branding experts contacted by our sister publication NutraIngredients-USA in May for a special feature on prebiotics felt the word 'prebiotic' meant little on its own to consumers, although the phrase 'prebiotic fiber' resonated more strongly given high awareness that fiber was good for you.
Sheldon Baker from nutraceutical brand marketing firm Baker Dillon Group, said: "I would personally give ‘prebiotic fiber’ the nod, simply because consumers are very familiar with fiber and its health benefits.”
He added: "As long as marketers stick with the fiber concept, Americans will grasp the positive virtues of prebiotics. Prebiotic fiber potentially could create a whole new fiber category for food marketers, but it will take a segment of the industry with a large marketing budget to educate consumers about the value and importance of prebiotics in order for this category to be successful."
Datamonitor predicts that digestive and immunity health foods will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.7 percent between 2009 and 2014, rising to $14.13bn.
This compares with a CAGR of 4.4 percent for bone and joint health products (estimated to be worth $4.15bn in 2014) and a CAGR of 4.8 percent for heart health products (est. $7.08bn in 2014).