The GMA said earlier this week that Americans are filling their shopping carts with healthier foods and drinks, particularly whole grains. Philippa Nuttall spoke to one firm to see whether they had experienced an increase in sales of fiber-rich ingredients.
In the survey of primary grocery shoppers carried out by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, 73 percent of respondents said they were buying more nutritious and healthy foods and beverages than in the past.
Moreover, products made with whole, unrefined grains topped the list of healthy products reaching the shopping basket, with 66 percent of consumers saying they bought fiber rich food and drink.
John Bodner, senior manager of applications and market development at the German ingredients firm J Rettenmaier told FoodIngredientsUSA.com that although he saw fiber ingredient sales at their highest a year ago, the US market is still buoyant and growing.
"We certainly saw a peak of fiber ingredient sales when the low-carb trend was at its peak, but this market is still increasing - particularly in R&D terms - compared to two years ago," he said.
Bodner estimated that the market for fiber ingredients was still growing in double-digits at over 10 percent. He suggested that the biggest growth was from the baking industry, buying ingredients for products such as tortilla and flat breads, which have moved from ethnic stores to the shelves of mainstream shops.
"People now want high-fiber and low-calorie varieties of these products," said Bodner.
And, according to him, demand is coming from companies across the board.
"All companies are getting involved from small privately held ones to some of the largest food companies, who are looking at low-cal / high-fiber and whole grain products to improve the nutritional profile of their products."
He believes that there are several reasons for an increase in demand for high-fiber and whole grain products, not least the push in the latest update of the dietary guidelines for Americans for consumers to eat more of these food.
Moreover, Bodner thinks it is a way for food companies to distinguish their products from the crowd and add value.
"Everyone is spending R&D resources on this. I was with one of the top five food companies a week or two ago and they had a project looking at the nutritional improvements they can make to mainstream products."
He believes companies see the key to success when making healthier foods and drinks is to take a mainstream product and change it, like putting Benecol in margerine.
"It's what they can do with a mainstream product to make it a little different and squeeze a bit more margin out of it," he added.
The latest figures from Productscan Online's database also seem to indicate that new products with high-fiber claims are at least holding onto the ground they won last year. In the first two and a half months of this year, 4 percent of all new foods launched in the US were said to be high in fiber, this is compared to 5.4 percent last year and 3.5 percent in 2003.
And a search in the database revealed 33 hits for new foods claiming to contain whole grains between the beginning of January and 14 March, this is compared to 150 hits for the whole of 2004 and 100 for 2003.
"It looks as if 2005 will be at or near a record for hits on whole whole grains though the year is still young," said Tom Vierhile, director of Productscan Online.