“We are seeing prevalence of diabetes increasing and every year there are 100,000 new cases of diabetes diagnosed in the United States, which is crazy. And pre-diabetes is growing so that one in three American adults has pre-diabetes, but 90% of these individuals don’t actually know, which is also crazy,” Maria Stewart, clinical research lead, global nutrition R&D at Ingredion, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo in Chicago last month.
She explained that as more people become aware of the risk and extent of these diseases, they increasingly will seek out foods and beverages that can help them manage their blood sugar levels – creating a “golden opportunity” for these products to move out of the shadows and take a more prominent position in grocery stores.
“I expect in the next five to 10 years, public awareness of diabetes is going to actually surpass cardio-vascular disease awareness because this will emerge as a major issue – not only for older adults but middle aged and even young adults,” she said. “Kids too are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is really a shame because it can be modified often times with diet and lifestyle.”
To support her prediction about the growing awareness and potential for products aimed at managing the diseases, Stewart pointed to a HealthFocus International US Trends Study conducted this year that found 34% of the general population is extremely or very concerned about type 2 diabetes, which is up 13% from 2014. In addition, the study found 36% of the general population is extremely or very concerned about blood sugar health.
This has roughly 72% of health conscious consumers looking for foods and drinks to help manage their blood sugar, according to another study by HealthFocus International that was conducted in 2014 on consumer perceptions of diabetes.
What’s more, consumers who are diabetic, prediabetic or at risk indicate that they are willing to pay between 10% and 20% more for these products, Stewart said, citing data found in proprietary research for Ingredion by Ketchum Global Research & Analytics in 2014.
One way manufacturers hoping to be on the “cutting edge of this emerging food trend in the marketplace” can reach early adopters and further spread the message about diet as a management control tool is to incorporate ingredients, such as Ingredion’s Hi-Maize resistant starch, which FDA approved last December to use a qualified health claim about reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, Stewart said.
“The exciting thing about the new qualified health claim in the type 2 diabetes risk reduction area is that it gives packaged food manufacturers another opportunity to be a leader in this space,” she added.
Hi-Maize also can help products tap into other consumer trends, such as an increased desire for high fiber, non-GMO and clean ingredient decks, Stewart noted.
“High-amylose corn is conventionally bred so it is not GMO … and it is developed as a high fiber ingredient that is white in color, bland in flavor and has 60% fiber by weight. It acts just like corn starch in food applications so can you essentially hide this fiber in foods that look as if they were made with refined grains without changing the sensory quality such as the visual appearance, texture or taste,” Stewart said.
The starch can be listed as fiber, which is currently more consumer-friendly than “starch,” Stewart acknowledged, but she also predicts that consumer awareness of the different types of fiber and starch is becoming more sophisticated.
“Previously, a lot of packaged food manufacturers didn’t want to call attention to resistant starch because there wasn’t a lot of consumer awareness of it,” but with the overhaul of the Nutrition Facts panel, consumers are learning more and likely will become more open to information about specific starches, she said.
That said, manufacturers will still need to educate consumers about the role of resistant starch because to some consumers it may appear to good to be true and they will be skeptical, she said, reiterating that its addition to some products could make once off-limits foods, such as pasta, an option again for consumers trying to control their blood sugar.