Productscan Online states that the percentage of new food and beverage products making high fiber claims in North America has been stuck at around 2.5 percent for the past four years, but the latest research reveals this has increased to 4.2 percent in 2004.
"The percentage of products being marketed as fiber-enriched has increased from 2.3 percent in 2000, 2.5 percent in 2001, 2.8 percent in 2002, 3 percent in 2003, to 4.2 percent this year," Tom Vierhile, the executive editor of Productscan Online told NutraIngredientsUSA. "Four years of consective growth is pretty good evidence of a trend."
He believes this trend will get an added boost in the coming years as the recently released dietary guidelines for 2005, which influence the food pyramid, advised - among other things - that "efforts are warranted to promote increased dietary intakes of fiber by children and adults."
However, Vierhile agreed that some of the growth in high-fiber products could be down to companies cashing in on the recent low carb diet trend, such as the Atkins and South Beach, which encourage followers to up their fiber intake.
Companies already at the forefront of this potential trend include ConAgra, which last month launched a new whole-grain flour - Ultragrain White Whole Wheat - at the International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas.ConAgra believes it has produced a fiber-enriched flour that has the taste, texture and finished baked qualities of refined white flour, though as Vierhile pointed out, "consumers will have to decide" whether the taste and texture really are unaltered.
Vierhile told NutraIngredientsUSA that the food categories most likely to benefit from a move towards fiber-enriched products are those hardest hit by the low-carb trend, such as breakfast cereals, breads and pastas.
"This is something positive that they can shout about," he said.
It is also possible that in the future the US will take a leaf out of Japan's book and start focusing on high-fiber vegetable drinks, which are still a fairly undeveloped area in North America.
The emphasis on encouraging people to lose weight in an effort to stem the rising tide of obesity is also pushing food manufacturers and consumers to look at healthier, less processed options.
The raw food trend - which is still a niche market, but gathering momentum - is a further sign of an increase in fiber consumption.
At the moment - as is generally the way with health trends - the smaller companies are leading the way with innovative new products, but the multi-nationals may not be far behind. General Mills has recently launched a high-fiber cereal, Oatmeal Crisp Triple Berry, and Kellogg Canada has paired up with George Weston Bakeries to introduce All Bran Breakfast Loaf and Two Scoops Raisin Bran Whole Wheat Breakfast Bread, two high fiber breakfast breads containing nine grams and seven grams of fiber respectively.
Back in 1998, Kellogg attempted to launch a whole range of high-fiber products as part of the Ensemble line. This included bread, frozen entrees, dry pasta, cereal, baked potato crisps, frozen loaves and cookies containing a soluble fiber.
Ensemble failed to capture the American public's imagination, but as Vierhile said, "the company may just have been too far ahead of its time."
The US Department of Agriculture recommends consumption of six to 11 servings per day of grain products, several of which should be from whole grains. But according to recent studies, only seven percent of the population eats three servings of whole grains daily. Research shows that in addition to protecting against cardiovascular disease, whole-grain foods may help reduce the risk of colon cancer and diabetes.