Article: Choices for Weight Management Products -- May 2008
by Claudia O’Donnell

Fat-free or just reduced-fat? Low-glycemic index or enhanced satiety? When it comes to developing products for the weight management market, the myriad of formulation objectives abounds. Both consumer interests and ingredient challenges impact a new product’s final formulation.

Ten years ago, New York-based Vitalicious Foods Inc. was at the forefront of innovation, as it introduced a line of reduced-fat baked goods that were also vitamin-fortified and indulgent. Over the years, its line extensions appealing to the weight-conscious included sugar-free and reduced-calorie versions, as well as fiber-added and whole-grain items. Although the claim of “100-calories” now appears on many of its products as they ride the portion-control trend, Mintel International’s GNPD reports that Vitalicious’ launches as far back as 2001 were formulated for a maximum of 100 calories per serving.

Indulgent, fortified and calorie-controlled are not always easy to achieve. Aryeh Hecht, company president, offers insights into why these finished product attributes are important.

“Low-calorie doesn’t mean ‘good’ calories,” he says. He’s pleased that some of his products were one of the very few 100-calorie foods to receive two stars from Hannaford Brothers, a retail chain with a system that judges products both on what they do and do not contain. “It’s hard for a person to diet, because they have to change their lifestyle. That is, they have to change what they do, how they live,” Hecht says. It is easier for people to keep their lifestyles, but to choose foods with nutritional characteristics that meet their dietary needs.

Food Industry's Efforts

American consumers’ “battle of the bulge” is notorious, although there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. A November 2007 NCHS Data Brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “There was no significant change in obesity prevalence…between 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 for men or women.”

However, the food industry is not off the hook. The brief also notes that more than one-third of adults, or over 72 million people, were obese in 2005-2006 and comments, “in the U.S., foods are inexpensive and widely available.” Additionally, “food portion sizes have increased, and individuals are eating out of the home more often…while opportunities for physical activity may have decreased.”

Although there has been much finger pointing at the foodservice industry’s “supersize” tendencies, increased efforts at portion control are making their way into the arena. The Boston chain Au Bon Pain offers Portions, a line of dishes that are all 200 calories or under. Quiznos, a chain of over 5,000 franchise restaurants, has introduced stuffed flatbreads called Sammies, with 325 or less calories.

The packaged foods industry’s interest in offering consumers pre-portioned servings shows up in the recent trend in mini-snack and 100-calorie packs, says Lynn Dornblaser, director, Custom Solutions Group, Mintel International. When formulated the same as the traditional product, they offer a solution to a certain category of consumer.

“Consumers in my focus groups realize that foods with reduced-fat, -calorie and -sugar content may help them manage their weight,” says Anju Holay of Barrington,   Ill.-based Next Step Marketing Research. However, there is a range of compromises they are willing to make when it comes to taste. Using a consumer segmentation model, products can be formulated to address different consumer need states. “For example, ‘taste seekers’ may have the desire to manage their weight, yet in actual practice, be less willing to compromise in taste,” states Holay. Instead, they may choose to select a different product or control their portion sizes. “In contrast, the ‘health challenged’ (i.e., those with genetic predispositions and/or presence of chronic health problems), who are accustomed to making compromises in order to better their health, may more readily trade off taste for reduced-/low-fat, -calories and -sugar.”

2008 R&D Trends: Weight Management Formulations

When it comes to formulating such “reduced in” products, one type still dominates. A statistically significant 81.2% of the R&D and marketing respondents toPrepared Foods’ “2008 R&D Trends: Weight Management Formulations” survey say that consumers will look to reduced-/low-fat food and beverage formulations for assistance in helping to solve a weight problem. Reduced-/low-calorie products were seen as the next most popular option among consumers, with 62.8% respondents saying consumers would look to these products for assistance. Reduced-sugar came in third, with 58.2% of the vote. Reduced-/low-carbohydrate products fell into fourth place at 41.9%, with high-protein products in fifth place at 38.0%. (See chart “Looking for Help.”)

Despite the plummeting number of new low-carb introductions, new research data on diet trends shows significant interest in the regimen remains, according to David Lockwood, research director at Mintel International. “In our study of over 1,200 U.S. adults who limited the amount or kind of food eaten, some 66% said they were ‘very/somewhat interested’ in heart-healthy diets and 62%, 59% and 55% in low-fat, low-calorie and low-sugar diet trends, respectively,” says Lockwood. However, some 47% also said they were “very/somewhat interested” in low-carb diets, compared with only 32% saying the same for diets involving the glycemic index.

These results are in harmony with the industry respondents toPrepared Foods’ weight management survey who believe consumers would look to low-carb foods before those touted for “weight management,” “low glycemic index” or “for satiety/feeling of fullness.” “The lack of new products claiming low-carbohydrate contents does not necessarily mean that consumers are not interested in these types of diets,” agrees Dornblaser. For one, those following low-carb regimens have the option of consuming foods innately low in carbs such as meats, eggs and certain dairy products.

“No-calorie” checked in as the least likely formulation that consumers would look to for weight management assistance, say respondents toPrepared Foods’ survey. This may well reflect the difficulty of formulating products of adequate quality, other than beverages, that completely lack calories. Even very low-calorie ingredients still contribute calories.

Ingredient Calories

Vitalicious Foods’ VitaMuffin line has a BlueBran variety touting, “Only 100 delicious fat-free calories” on its label. In contrast, the label of its Velvety Chocolate variety says, “Only 80 delicious sugar-free calories.” Chocolate products, such as those with chocolate chips, cannot be fat-free because of the fat content of the chocolate, notes Hecht. “Although we still keep them low-fat, fat content is not a particular issue with blueberry- and bran-based ingredients.”

Additionally, there is an ingredient trade-off when formulating some baked goods. The lower fat content a formulation has, the more sugar the product likely will require; this is necessary to provide a sensorially satisfying experience, suggests Hecht. “However, we make sure to keep both the sugar and the fat ‘at bay’ in a product.”

 Thus, “no-calorie” products have one disadvantage: they cannot avail themselves of the formulation tactic of trading 4Kcal/g of carbohydrate for 9Kcal/g of fat-based ingredients to increase acceptability. The difficult nature of no-calorie products is confirmed in the response to another question inPrepared Foods’ survey that asked, “In general, how easy are each of the following products to formulate so that it provides the sensory properties closest to a traditional version?” While reduced-sugar or -calorie was deemed least difficult, no-calorie was the most, followed by no-fat and no-sugar. (See chart “Ease of Formulation.”)

Those inPrepared Foods’ survey also were asked, “What ingredient(s) or ingredient categories do you personally believe could assist in the formulation of a food or beverage product for consumers concerned about weight?” (See responses in the chart “Product Developers Believe.”)  Just as being overweight is a complicated issue involving cultural, biological and environmental factors, the specific ranking of individual ingredients also reflects complex opinions. Developers must consider what is likely to contribute to a well-balanced and potentially successful diet, as well as understand a particular ingredient’s functional or nutritional properties.

In January of this year, General Mills introduced Yoplait branded Fiber One™ Yogurt, a product that exemplifies many of the survey’s results. For example, although its description as a “nonfat yogurt” and claim of 80 calories per serving squarely positions it as a weight management product, the company’s press release primarily touts the line for its fiber content.  Indeed, respondents toPrepared Foods’ survey checked off dietary fiber most often as an ingredient they believed could assist in the formulation of a food or beverage for consumers concerned about weight. A company release quotes Suzanne Skapyak of General Mills’ Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition as saying, “Fiber has been proven to play an important role in health, including both digestive health and as part of weight management.”

Fiber One’s ingredient list abounds with ingredients that contribute fiber, sweetness and/or work to provide the creamy texture, including chicory root extract (inulin), modified corn starch, whey protein concentrate, gelatin and aspartame. This is in harmony with the 31.4% ofPrepared Foods’ survey respondents that say high-intensity sweeteners could assist in a product formulation, 25.3% that say the same for whey protein and 20.1% for hydrocolloid gums.

Hydrocolloid gums that provide high viscosity, while imparting relatively few calories, have been the mainstay of many low-fat formulations. Many suppliers can offer detailed advice on their use in such applications. (Type in “Improving Texture, Overrun and Foam Stability in Regular and Reduced-fat Dairy Systems” at Prepared for one video providing such advice.)

Less Traditional Weight-management Ingredients

While ingredients for reduced-calorie and -fat formulations have been on the scene for decades, food product developers are becoming increasingly aware of some less traditional ingredients for weight management. Green tea is a prime example.

A fair amount of research has investigated the mechanism behind green tea’s thermogenetic properties (i.e., production of heat by metabolic processes, which relates to “burning calories”). This is thought to involve more than just the caffeine-like stimulants in tea. For example, one communication (Dulloo, AJ, et al. 2000.Int J Obes. 24:252-258) reports that a synergistic interaction between tea’s catechin-polyphenols and caffeine may “augment and prolong sympathetic stimulation of thermogenesis,” which could “be of value in assisting the management of obesity.” Another recent study (Venables, MC, et al. 2008.Am J Clin Nutr. 87:778-84) concludes that “Acute GTE [green tea extract] ingestion can increase fat oxidation during moderate-intensity exercise and can improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in healthy young men.”

Although discussion over green tea’s weight control benefits will continue, survey respondents were relatively enthusiastic, as they ranked it fifth on a list of 21 ingredients they personally thought could assist with weight management.

The term “weight management” has been used throughout this article; however, some ingredient suppliers point out that controlling one’s weight is not as desirable as efforts to decrease body fat, while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. Both chromium picolinate and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) are said to possess these benefits.

While research has produced mixed results, one recent study (Corl, BA, et al. 2008,J Nutr. 138:449-54) supported CLA’s ability (in piglets) to reduce body fat accretion, without influencing total weight gain; that is, it did not stunt overall growth. It was theorized the compound might be beneficial for children.

Another long-time “work horse” of lowered calorie products, polydextrose, fell surprisingly low in the survey. FDA-approved for food use since 1981, the soluble fiber can, of course, increase fiber, as well as replace sugar and reduce the calorie and fat content of foods. It also is said to possess prebiotic abilities and a low-glycemic index. All these abilities are “on-trend” for weight management products.

Just as these ingredients have varied awareness and understanding among the food and beverage industry’s product development community, so do weight management products (e.g., those that are “low glycemic” or “satiating”).

Low Glycemic to Satiety

A significantly greater percent ofPrepared Foods’ survey respondents felt consumers looking for help with weight management would turn to low-glycemic products before considering ingredients offered for satiety.

In both cases, quantification or verification is an issue. That is, while nutrient content claims such as “low fat” or “no sugar” can be analytically confirmed and are defined by regulations, no such regulation guidelines exist for low-glycemic products or how “filling” a food is. When the survey asked, "What are the formulation challenges in developing products that are appropriate for a low-glycemic diet?” the top challenge, as identified by 53.3% of those surveyed, was “defining low-glycemic.” (See chart “Define It First.”)

“Globally, the number of foods and beverages launched with a low-glycemic claim has steadily increased,” says Dornblaser. “Some 22 products were launched in 2001. That number rose to 123 in 2004, 237 in 2006 and 365 last year.” She also notes, however, that North America lags behind both the European and Asian Pacific markets in the number of new low-glycemic product launches.

One study, conducted in January 2007, found the attractiveness of a low-glycemic index claim to be directly correlated to age. “In a Mintel/Greenfield Online survey of 474 U.S. adult consumers who personally consumed nutrition/energy bars, 57% of those 45-54 years in age said a low-GI was important to their choice. Only 40% of those in the 18-34 age range said so,” reports Dornblaser.

The concept of a glycemic index is a factor in the Zone, updated Atkins and South Beach diets, among others. However, “it is the cornerstone of NutriSystem’s program,” says Jay Satz, vice president of Program and Product Development, NutriSystem Inc. Once bankrupt, NutriSystem has become a highly successful company; this is due, in part, to a reformulated product line heavily based on the GI of foods. The company continues to innovate, as it rolls out new programs for men and women, older consumers and diabetics. (Satz will be speaking on “Weight Management Today and Tomorrow,“ atPrepared Foods’ 2008 New Products Conference. See

Kelley Fitzpatrick, director of Health and Nutrition with the Flax Canada 2015 program, explains the glycemic index as a system of ranking the carbohydrate quality in a food—based on its immediate effect on blood glucose (and, thus, insulin levels and weight management). Dietary fiber, particularly viscous or soluble fiber, beneficially impacts a food’s GI. A webinar entitled “Flax, Fiber and the Glycemic Index,” which she moderated, has drawn over 940 registrants, giving an indication as to the food industry’s interest in the topic. (The webinar is archived at; click on “Webinars” in the left hand navigation bar.)

Although only 26.5% ofPrepared Foods’ survey respondents felt consumers would look to products positioned “for satiety/feeling of fullness” for weight management, it may well be the “next big thing.”

For example, Kellogg’s Special K2O Protein Water Mix was introduced in the fall of 2007, with the front label claim “feel fuller long.” It is formulated with polydextrose and whey protein isolate. Kraft Foods just launched a line of products under the South Beach Living brand, many with the claim “a nutritious way to help satisfy hunger.” Unilever’s Slim-Fast brand introduced Hunger Shots in the U.K. that say they will “help you want to eat less” and contain 6g fiber and 4g protein. In the U.S., the Slim·Fast Optima branded shakes and Meal On-The-Go Bars’ website claims they “are now proven to control your hunger up to 4 hours!”

Ingredient suppliers are lending support to the satiety trend by researching their ingredients’ abilities. One supplier reports that a pilot study in humans demonstrates that its inulin ingredient, “when incorporated into the diet, can act as a trigger limiting hunger feelings and energy intake.”

Another dietary supplement ingredient supplier says that within 30-60 minutes after taking a 3g dose of its proprietary extract from the nuts of the Korean pine tree, “the amount of CCK and GLP1 hormones in the blood of test subjects significantly increased, compared to those who had taken a placebo. They, additionally, reported they felt ‘full’ and had a reduced desire to eat.” Also, a patented, special emulsion of palm oil and highly purified oat oil triggers a mechanism known as the ileal brake by the presence of the emulsion in the last part, the ileum, of the intestine. “This sends a satiety signal to the brain that helps dieters eat less,” said the supplier, who also noted that independent, extensive clinical data shows that people using the ingredient “eat less and often don’t even feel the difference.”

Formulations and increasingly useful ingredients will certainly create new products for consumers interested in maintaining a more ideal weight. Yet, in the end, it is important to remember that sensory attributes are still key. When asked whether the Hannaford star system also considers the taste of Vitalicious Foods, Hecht replied, “They leave taste judgment to the customers to decide.” Going strong after nearly a decade in business, consumers are obviously judging with a “thumbs up.”

 1: Vitalicious’ website notes that it “has created a unique triangle of need-satisfaction (all-natural ingredients + nutraceuticals + weight management), the only baked-goods company in this niche.”

Website Resources Searchable site for webinars, podcasts, technical and trend videos, and archived articles on weight management and various formulations Mintel’s website listing industry reports Retailer’s nutritional quality star system NCHS Data Brief on the report “Obesity Among Adults in the U.S.: No Significant Change in 2005-06” Consumer site that lists programs customized by the consumer’s age, sex and certain health conditions Unilever’s 100g satiety shots U.S. product line touting satiety