The study, which was conducted by HealthFocus International on behalf of National Starch Food Innovation and unveiled at the recent Resistant Starch is a Natural Conference in Chicago, could revolutionize how fiber is marketed in the future.
The aim of the event was to discuss how best to achieve greater awareness of a naturally occurring class of fiber - resistant starch - among consumers in the US.
"While consumers may be hesitant about fiber, they do like the health benefits associated with it: feeling full after a meal, learning how to balance energy following a meal, and the colonic benefits that help prevent against colon cancer and other diseases," said K. Dun Gifford, president of Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust, a non-profit food issues think tank.
"Since everyone urges Americans to get more fiber into their diet, it's our view that food processors need to find names for it that will attract consumers to buy it and eat it."
Indeed, despite growing awareness of the health benefits associated with fiber, Americans still consume only about half of the recommended targets of 28 grams for women and 35 grams for men of dietary fiber per day. But National Starch believes that by focusing on specific classes of fiber and how they benefit health, consumers can begin to think of the product as a nutritional ingredient rather than a dull food type.
Because natural resistant starch escapes digestion in the small intestine and is digested in the lower intestine, it promotes a number of specific benefits such as healthy blood sugar levels. It is here that National Starch believe they could be on to a winner.
"We predict blood sugar claims will be a major consumer trend over the next several years," said Rhonda Witwer, business development manager, nutrition, at National Starch Food Innovation.
"The significant scientific data published on Hi-maize 5-in-1 Fiber will allow food companies to make a 'helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels' structure/function claim on their products."
According to the survey, more than two-thirds of shoppers said the label claim 'Helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels' was important to them even though they'd never seen this information on food labels. This marks a significant change in consumer perceptions - awareness of blood sugar level management was so low in 2002 that a previous study did not include the claim.
In addition, the survey suggested that 'blood sugar' is a more consumer-friendly term than 'glycemic'. Only 24 percent of shoppers reported that 'Glycemic Index' is a strong or moderate influence on their choice of foods. And 53 percent of consumers reported that they are trying to eat more high fiber foods to reduce their risk of disease.
Resistant starch occurs naturally in some foods such as unripe bananas and cooked and cooled potatoes, though National Starch's Hi-maize 5-in-1 Fiber ingredient offers food makers the opportunity to fortify their product with the fiber.
Some manufacturers are already looking at new ways of promoting fiber consumption. In August, Kellogg launched the Fiber Challenge, a new initiative designed to promote its fiber-rich cereal products.
The Fiber Challenge asks consumers to eat a bowl a day of either Frosted Mini-Wheats, Raisin Bran or All-Bran for two weeks, claiming that participants "should feel a difference." The initiative looks to tap into a market disappointed by low-carb and confused by GI.
Kellogg is therefore taking a lead by changing the packaging of its Frosted Mini-Wheats, Raisin Bran and All-Bran cereal products in order to promote their fiber content.