Consumers increasingly understand and recognize the benefits of fiber and it’s influencing their “better-for-you” food and beverage selections.

Of course, dietary fiber has long been associated with good digestive health. More recent studies also have confirmed that a high fiber diet contributes additional health benefits. These not only are associated with gastro-intestinal health but also reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, high cholesterol, obesity, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers.

Despite this growing awareness, most US consumers are still not eating nearly enough fiber to attain the healthy benefits. The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily consumption of 25g of fiber for women and 38g for men. Unfortunately however, only an estimated 5% US consumers actually meet this daily target for fiber consumption. It’s been shown that the average American eats only 16g of fiber per day.

In a 2018 Innova Consumer Survey, 44% of US consumers claimed to be increasing their fiber consumption. In Innova’s research, the majority of US consumers (64%) attributed their interest in increasing their fiber consumption to digestive health. Interestingly, a significant 24% also cited weight management as a reason to seek out more fiber; and 16% mentioned energy.

Product innovation within the fiber space suggests that this shortfall is being addressed in new foods and beverages. High fiber or source of fiber claims were used for more than 4.5% of global food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of June 2020, with a slightly higher penetration of 4.8% in the US during the same period. Fiber content claims are used across a wide variety of food and drinks products, but more than two-thirds appear in just five categories: cereals, snacks, ready meals and side dishes, bakery and pet foods.


Great Grains: Cereals, Bars

Cereals led in terms of actual launches and also in terms of penetration with more than 25% of new cereals featuring high/source of fiber claims. Snacks represented the second most active category in terms of launch numbers but this segment ranked third in terms of overall penetration (with fiber appearing on just under 21% of total products). Baby and toddler products—while only sixth in terms of launch numbers—rank as second in terms of penetration. Although this category is a far cry from cereals, fiber references appear on just over 13% of all products.

Cereals used the highest number of fiber-related claims, despite relatively limited overall new product development levels.  More specifically, fiber is called out in both cereal/energy bars and hot and cold breakfast cereals, many of which are also marketed on a wholegrains platform.  The use of oats in cereals has been rising for some time, with many of these using high-fiber and wholegrain positionings.

Cereal and energy bars dominate overall new product development.  During the tracking period, cereals accounted for 59% of most new products within the category (including bars) and 61% of those cereals used high fiber claims. It was the smallest subcategory of hot cereals that led in terms of penetration, however, with 37.5% of launches using high/source of fiber positionings.

Traditional hot oat cereals and oatmeal play strong roles here, with many using fiber content and associated wholegrains claims. While oats have long been associated with fiber and wholegrains, a wave of new products is driving hot cereals forward with many more value-added ingredients.

Quaker Oats Real Medleys (PepsiCo) represent an example of this. The line features its original high fiber wholegrain oatmeal with different flavors. Then developers added two SuperGrains varieties: Banana Walnut and Maple Pecan Raisin. Both are cited as a good source of fiber, with 33g and 34g of wholegrains, respectively, and a range of cereals ingredients including ancient grains quinoa and flaxseed, as well as more traditional oats, wheat, barley and rye.

Although there’s much more new product activity in cold cereals (compared to hot), this segment has lower penetration levels related to fiber content claims. Fiber content references appeared on just under 21% of all items and many of those also are associated with oats.

Meanwhile, 26% of new US cereal and energy bars used high/source of fiber claims. The US has a very large and highly developed cereal and energy bars market, which Innova values at more than USD $8 billion in annual sales.  Despite concern about sugar content in some instances, these products generally carry a healthy image. Moreover, they represent an ideal portable and easily accessible source of high-fiber snacks or meal replacements for a wide range of consumers with different requirements.

With plant proteins particularly in demand, nuts—such as peanuts, almonds and walnuts—enjoy popularity as bar ingredients. They boost fiber content and contribute to a range of other on-trend high protein, clean label and free-from claims.

CORE Foods, Brooklyn, N.Y., offers a good example of this trend with a line of organic, gluten free, non-GMO, kosher and vegan Overnight Oat Bars. They promote a clean image, while also focusing on prebiotic fiber and probiotics content, as well as protein. Most recently, this refrigerated line was extended with three energy variants. They feature added caffeine and come in coffee shop inspired flavors: Strawberry Basil Tea, Caramel Coffee Crunch and Mocha Chip Espresso. Each variety features almonds as a key ingredient and one (Caramel Coffee) also includes cashews.


Snack Attack

Snacks constitute the second largest category in terms of fiber content claims, but activity is focused primarily in just four subcategories, where penetration rates also are high. These segments involve snack nuts and seeds, fruit-based snacks, snack mixes and bean-based snacks, which accounted for a combined share of nearly three-quarters of the total.  In terms of penetration, bean-based snacks lead from a low base, ahead of fruit-based snacks, snack nuts and seeds and snack mixes.

When it comes to fiber, fruit-based offerings represent the second largest snacks subcategory in terms of new product development. They rank just behind snack nuts and seeds. Then again, apart from the much smaller bean-based snacks subcategory, fruit snacks lead in terms of penetration. During a 12-month tracking period to the end of June 2020, nearly a quarter of all U. S. fruit snack launches used “high” and/or source of fiber claims.

Fruit, particularly dried fruit, tends to be marketed as naturally high in fiber. More recently, there also is new activity involving functional fruits with added probiotic and prebiotic ingredients. Mariani Packing Company Inc., Vacaville, Calif., offers a range of single-serve dried fruits with probiotics to support digestive health. The latest offerings—Apricots and Prunes—join a line that also includes Raisins, Berries & Plums, and Cranberries.

In another move, Safe Food Corp., Edgewater, N.J., introduced a range of Sunny Fruit dried fruits with added prebiotics in the form of oligofructose-enriched inulin from chicory root. The line features Prebiotic Added Organic Dried Figs and Prebiotic Added Organic Dried Apricots. On-pack wording claims the products are an excellent source of dietary fiber with 25% of the recommended daily amount to support digestion and normal gut bacteria.

The relatively small and underdeveloped bean-based snacks subcategory has seen good growth in recent years with rising interest in alternative plant-based ingredients for snacks.  Nearly 59% of launches in the 12 months to the end of June 2020 used fiber content claims. Chickpea based snacks have been particularly popular, but there also has been interest in alternatives such as navy beans and black beans.

Beanfields PBC, Los Angeles, has been active in this area and offers a range of snacks focused on navy beans and black beans. It markets its products as healthy, high fiber, high protein, vegan alternatives to more traditional corn-based chips. It started as a family operation and since has expanded with additional funding and investment. This fueled Beanfields’ growth and spurred additional R&D with new, on-trend flavors such as Himalayan Pink Salt, Black Bean with Sea Salt and Korean BBQ.

Snack nuts and seeds, the largest of the 14 snacks subcategories in terms of NPD, takes third place in terms of penetration of high/source of fiber claims. References to high fiber or source of fiber were featured in more than 18% of US launches in the 12 months to the end of June 2020.  The naturally high fiber content of many nuts has been used as a key benefit as nuts and seeds are promoted as healthy, nutritious, tasty and portable snacks.

This also has extended into the smaller snack mixes subcategory, where mixes of nuts, seeds and fruit can carry similar health attributes including a naturally high fiber content. It comes only just behind snack nuts and seeds in terms of penetration, with more than 17% of launches featuring claims related to high fiber or the source of fiber.

An interesting June 2020 launch involved Bliss Bento snack packs from Naturipe Farms LLC, Salinas, Calif. Three of four new varieties are marketed (on pack) as “a good source of fiber” and offerings include Vanilla Crunch, Chocolate Cheer, Salty Caramelicious and Berry Lemony. Rather than relying on dried fruit, Naturipe, a leading fruit supplier, incorporates fresh fruit. Other components include granola, nuts or chickpeas. All are marketed as perfectly prepared, portable snack or dessert treats nourishing with flavor, fiber and iron.

Fiber comes with a health halo and is easy for consumers to understand. Linked to the overall health and wellness trend, fiber also is associated with good gut health and is essential for managing blood sugar levels.

By developing great tasting products that offer added digestive health benefits, as well as meeting the needs of major consumer trends, food manufacturers can help consumers keep their digestive systems healthy, naturally and with ease, without having to make any significant changes to their lifestyle or diet, or to sacrifice on taste or texture.