Whether consumers know they are not getting enough, or care enough to actively try and consume more, however, is a moot point, Ardent Mills’ director of consumer insights, Dr David Sheluga, told FoodNavigator-USA.
According to Mintel GNPD data, interest in fiber has remained pretty steady in recent years, with the percentage of new products making high fiber claims in the US food retail market hovering at or just below 3% since 2011.
And while consumer surveys show that most people think fiber is healthy, it’s not an ‘on-trend’ ingredient in the way that chia, or, say, coconut is, and consumers and product developers do not appear to be clamoring for insights on fiber right now, he pointed out.
“I don't believe that consumers are increasing interest in fiber. I believe their interest is neutral to down. I don't believe they are seeking it. If someone could claim that fiber makes your hair shinier, your teeth whiter, your skin clearer, or helps you develop 6-pack abs... then fiber would be more trendy.”
Consumers think fiber and whole grains are synonymous
but every cloud has a silver lining, said Dr Sheluga.
"Right now, the best thing that fiber has going for it, is the increase in plant based proteins making satiety claims - the claim that protein helps you feel fuller longer and thus helps with weight loss or weight management.”
Given that the science on protein doing this alone is “inconclusive”, he says, “protein needs a food partner: Enter... fiber.”
He added: “Fiber has always owned the satiety, ‘keeps you feeling fuller longer’ claims. Yet, fiber has stopped short of saying ‘helps you lose weight and get 6-pack abs’. Thus, fiber needs to step up its claims, and partner with protein to fulfill the promise of weight loss/weight management. The two areas - protein and fiber - are a great partnership.”
As to sources of fiber, meanwhile, consumers are not hugely discerning, he claimed.
“From what we learned a couple years ago, consumers think fiber and whole grains are synonymous. They believe that if they consume more whole grains, that they are getting more fiber. However, their interest in eating more whole grains has cooled off also.”
Cargill: If you look at the amount of fiber that’s in some whole grains, it’s actually quite low compared with inulin
His point about wholegrains, made frequently by Kellogg (click HERE) which notes that 85% of consumers believe (erroneously) that if a product made with whole grains it is also a good source of fiber, was also echoed by Carrie Santamaria, specialty carbohydrates products manager, at Cargill (which sells soluble chicory root fibers - inulin and oligofructose - under the Oliggo-Fiber brand).
She told FoodNavigator-USA: “Consumers see whole grain messages and the common perception is that they are getting loads of fiber, but if you look at the amount of fiber that’s in some whole grains, it’s actually quite low compared with inulin, so you can use a lot less of inulin to deliver ‘good source of’ or ‘excellent source of’ fiber claims. A standard loaf of bread contains maybe one gram of fiber per serving whereas a fiber fortified bread could contain 2, 3 or 4 grams per serving.”
Customers are also trying to promote non-GMO ingredients and chicory is non-GMO
As for labeling, while consumers might not be too clued up on where their fiber is coming from, food developers selecting a fiber for fortification purposes in snacks or other products want to pick one that sounds natural and wholesome on the ingredients list, added Santamaria.
“Our customers want find a fiber source that supports their labeling overall. Chicory root fiber is a clean label ingredient that is wholesome but also sounds wholesome on the label as consumers don’t want chemical-sounding names. Customers are also trying to promote non-GMO ingredients and chicory is non-GMO.”
Understanding of prebiotics will grow as we dig deeper
When it comes to communicating the health benefits of inulin and oligofructose, while some customers want to talk about prebiotics (ingredients that stimulate the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut), most just flag up grams of fiber, mention fiber in connection with protein, or make a nutrient content claim (good or excellent source of fiber), said Santamaria.
“In consumer discussions about digestive health, a lot of emphasis is still on probiotics, but understanding of prebiotics will grow as we dig deeper. All the work being done on the human microbiome is also going to increase awareness.”
Chicory root fiber works particularly well in bars
On the applications side, meanwhile, chicory root fiber dissolves in water without adding viscosity, so can even be used in clear beverages (thus its moniker as the ‘invisible fiber’), she said. It also has a bland flavor and no grittiness, making it ideal for use in everything from breads, cookies and crackers to yogurt, confectionery, ice cream, dry mixes, meal replacements and cheese.
“It works particularly well in bars, which are increasingly being used as snack meals,” noted Santamaria. “In a high protein extruded bar, for example, oligofructose can help maintain a soft, moist texture.”
The only application that doesn’t really work is low pH beverages, she said.
“Inulin is pH sensitive, so in a low pH acidic environment [pH 3.5 or lower], it will hydrolyze [break down] into shorter chains and simple sugars such as fructose. A refrigerated juice with a short shelf life is probably OK but for a shelf-stable juice with a 12 month shelf life it’s a different matter.”