Cargill on inulin: Today it’s about fiber and weight… tomorrow it will be about prebiotics and mineral absorption

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

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Prebiotics stimulate the growth of 'good' bacteria in the gut by giving them something to eat
Prebiotics stimulate the growth of 'good' bacteria in the gut by giving them something to eat
While US firms using inulin and oligofructose are still primarily interested in adding fiber or reducing fat and sugar, they are starting to move beyond generic fiber claims into discussing more specific health benefits, says Cargill.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after launching a new liquid ‘fiber syrup’ version of its Oliggo-Fiber inulin, a Cargill spokeswoman said: “Today it’s about fiber claims and weight management.

“However we are beginning to see an interest in moving from generic ‘fiber’ claims to making more specific claims where possible. 

“These claims include highlighting the prebiotic effect, but also getting even more specific and discussing inulin’s benefit on calcium absorption.”

‘Invisible’ liquid inulin

In bars, the new “virtually invisible​” liquid inulin can serve as a binder in place of sweetener syrups, providing structure and fiber, she said.

In fruit preps and other applications, such as beverages, it can be easier to handle and incorporate a liquid rather than reconstituting a powder. 

“Also, the liquid inulin is about 75% solids and it is not possible to reconstitute a dry powder to that same level of solids.”

Do consumers get prebiotics?

While there is a growing body of evidence to support the ability of inulin and oligofructose to stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut (a prebiotic effect) and improve the absorption of calcium (for bone health), consumer research presents a mixed picture when it comes to prebiotics.   

While a 2011 US consumer survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) suggested a 79% awareness levels of the health benefits of prebiotics​, many marketing experts say consumers remain pretty clueless about them.

A consumer panel gathered at the IFT Wellness 2012 conference in Chicago last week had no idea what prebiotics were when questioned​, while market researchers and brand experts we contacted for our special edition on prebiotics​ last year said consumers were still struggling to get their heads around the concept.

The way forward: Prebiotic fiber?

But this did not mean prebiotics had no future, merely that the communication strategy needed more work, said Sheldon Baker from nutraceutical brand marketing firm Baker Dillon Group.

'Healthy gut flora’ or ‘bifidogenic’ is a mouthful for consumers. As long as marketers stick with the fiber concept, Americans will grasp the positive virtues of prebiotics.

"The term ‘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."

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