June 1/Deerfield, Ill./Prepared Foods -- Global Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA) forecasts the U.S. market for prebiotics will reach $225.1 million by 2015, while European sales are expected to hit $1.17 billion by that time. The GIA’s “European & U.S. Report on Prebiotics” finds the European market is “driven by the expansion of prebiotic ingredient manufacturers into new application areas such as meat and snack products,” while the U.S. market is driven by “continued demand for fructans...the largest product segment in the U.S. prebiotic market.”

Market research firm Frost & Sullivan largely concurs with the GIA report, noting strong growth for prebiotics in the U.S. for the near future, predicting the market for the ingredients will double over the next five years, to exceed $220 million. Although this is sizeable growth, the total sum is still well shy of other areas of the world. In comparison, Frost & Sullivan’s report “European Human Food and Beverage Prebiotics Market” found Europe’s prebiotic market valued at 295.5 million euros (US $415 million) in 2008, with predictions of just under 767 million euros (US $1.08 billion) by 2015.

One question still persists regarding the U.S. market: are consumers actually interested in prebiotics’ digestive health benefits, or is that interest primarily fueled by a desire to reduce calorie, fat and sugar consumption, while also capitalizing on the satiating effects of dietary fiber?

According to Tejaswini Prabhu, research associate with Frost & Sullivan, it is more likely the latter. “Companies that have successfully launched prebiotic products in the U.S. have marketed the low-calorie and sugar-free aspect of the product as much as the prebiotic effects. Rarely are individual prebiotic claims made.”

UBIC Consulting's 2010 report "The World Prebiotic Ingredient Market" detailed U.S. acceptance of prebiotics in relation to other areas of the world, particularly Asia. “Oligosaccharides have been used in Japan since the beginning of the 1980s. About 20 companies are involved in the production of oligosaccharides in Japan, which remains the main market [for prebiotics].

As the GIA report notes, “Prebiotics are rapidly rising in popularity within the functional food market, thanks to their vast applications in dairy products, health drinks, nutrition bars, breakfast cereals, beverages, bakery products, meat products, mineral supplements, weight loss products, green foods, infant food, and pet food. Global health trends -- such as the rise in number of cases of obesity and other ailments related to digestive system, bones and joints -- are fast encouraging consumers to focus on a balanced, healthy diet, which in turn is driving the unprecedented demand for prebiotics at an international level.”

Back in the U.S., UBIC contends the “development of inulin and fructooligosaccharide (FOS) has been a bit slower because of acceptance and labeling.” Nevertheless, since 1999, the market grew more than 120% from 1999-2010, according to the "The World Prebiotic Ingredient Market.”

In Europe, manufacturers have been keen to take advantage of inulin’s organoleptic properties. UBIC estimates 17% of Europe’s yogurts are manufactured with prebiotics, 2% of them with oligosaccharides.

The U.S. market for prebiotics currently stands at roughly $110 million, per Frost & Sullivan, with inulin accounting for around 35% of that market’s share. The July 2010 issue of Current Pharmaceutical Design featured a study which could well be welcomed by U.S. inulin suppliers. In that issue, authors F. Russo et al. detailed the results of their investigation of the "Metabolic Effects of a Diet with Inulin-enriched Pasta in Healthy Young Volunteers." Some 22 healthy young male volunteers were in a randomized, double-blind, cross-over study during which they consumed 11% inulin-enriched pasta or control pasta for five weeks each (with an eight-week washout period in between). The authors found differences in HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol ratio, triglycerides and other areas, concluding "Inulin-enriched pasta improved lipid and glicidic metabolism as well as the insulin resistance in healthy young subjects."

Per the UBIC, following behind inulin’s popularity in the U.S. are mannan oligosaccharides’ (MOS) 25% and FOS’ 10%, just beginning to capitalize on the sugar-free trend in the United States. In fact, the natural sweetener trend may serve as a boon to another product starting to see research pointing to its prebiotic benefits.

As Josh Mackenzie noted in the September 2010 issue of Chemistry, "Honey is of interest as a prebiotic material because it contains many oligosaccharides and low molecular weight polysaccharides likely to resist degradation by host enzymes, and thus be available as a nutrient source for the microflora in the large bowel." Honey, it was found, "enhanced the growth, activity and viability of commercial strains of bifidobacteria, which are typically used in the manufacture of fermented dairy products. The reported effect was strain specific."

From the June 1 Prepared Foods E-dition