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Beta-Glucan: Will Consumers Take the 3-Gram Challenge?



By Diana Cowland, Industry Analyst



Published December 15, 2011
Beta-Glucan: Will Consumers Take the 3-Gram Challenge?
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The high fiber diet is, arguably, already a huge health and wellness trend, but the market is far from saturated. As our aging population becomes ever more prone to risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the fiber craze is in line to become even bigger as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has now stated that the 27 EU Member States are free to make cholesterol-lowering health claims due to the permission of an Article 14(1)(a) health claim stating that “Oat beta-glucan has been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol,” which is in accordance with the information already provided by the FDA. The claim can be used for foods that provide one gram or more of oat beta-glucan per portion. However, from the current availability of products containing beta-glucan, it would appear to be something of a challenge for consumers to meet the recommended 3 grams per day target.

Beta-glucan is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in, for example, the cellulose of plants, the bran of cereal grains and the cell wall of baker’s yeast. However, a daily intake of 3 grams would almost certainly have to include a range of products, as the likes of Quaker Oats’ Oats so Simple, General Mills Inc’s Original Cheerios, Hovis’ Hearty Oats loaf and Oatly’s Healthy Oats drink contain only 1 gram of beta-glucan per serving. And so while it is possible to meet the 3 grams needed in order for a cholesterol-lowering effect to take place, for most consumers this would involve a significant change to their daily diet. Thus, these products are not as convenient for the consumer as the likes of Raisio Oyj’s Benecol or Flora’s Proactiv, which are a simple addition to the diet. In addition to this, as studies have shown the ability to lower cholesterol through diet is much weaker than through pharmaceutical drugs such as statins, this begs the question: will consumers be willing to take on the 3 gram challenge?

It would appear that the only way forward is via fortified products, as the naturally healthy (NH) products available do not contain the required 3 grams of beta-glucan in a single serving. Perhaps packaged foods such as breakfast cereals and bread could be good vehicles for fortification as their ingredients naturally contain some beta-glucan and are already associated with the digestive benefits of fiber. NH high fiber packaged food is set to see an increase in retail sales of $5.6 billion over 2010-2015, but fortified/functional (FF) packaged food is expected to enjoy growth nearly four times that of the NH category. Thus, there are opportunities aplenty to develop beta-glucan-fortified products to target consumers looking for heart-healthy items.

But what does all this mean for products? Private label could benefit, while branded fiber-rich products could widen their appeal. Fortified/functional is a category in which private label is in a strong position, as it is increasingly able to offer consumers less expensive alternatives that are lower in sugar, salt and fat and higher in fiber.

Those companies that have a strong line of oat-rich products are in a prime position to take quick advantage of this legally approved claim. For example, Oatly AB has a product range that includes natural oat-based drinks, yogurt, ice cream and cream as well as fruit-flavored oat drinks and smoothies. Originally developed for consumers who are lactose intolerant, the brand now has a great opportunity to further promote its heart-healthy benefits too.

Beta-glucan cannot only be added to packaged food and beverages but can also be found in supplements, where a higher dose can be taken in a single portion. The growing demand for natural products means there are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to move into the fiber supplementation arena, focusing on heart-health claims, especially if their products contain the recommended 3 grams of beta-glucan. At present, according to Euromonitor International’s consumer Health research, the majority of fiber-based supplements contain high levels of inulin rather than beta-glucan. A supplement of the latter could not only target CVD-conscious consumers but also play to the growing interest in low glycemic index diets, which are closely linked to the prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

The manufacturers of FF foods and dietary supplements are now in a stronger position to use dietary fibers such as beta-glucan to promote their products in line with the trend, which endorses preventative self-medication. This will become ever more important as life expectancy is set to reach 81 years in developed nations, the global overweight and obese population is set to carry on rising and the occurrence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and CVD, is only likely to increase. However, these diseases are not specific to developed markets but are also increasingly being seen in emerging markets—offering further potential, perhaps, as consumers in these regions become increasingly aware of nutritionally fortified packaged food.

So, while the 3 grams daily intake seems somewhat challenging to consumers at the moment, new innovations that enable products to offer the required amount could prove lucrative for manufacturers as the number of consumers who aim to lower their cholesterol, have Type 2 diabetes, CVD or even just want to improve their digestion or overall well-being, grows.

For further insight, contact Diana Cowland, Analyst—Health and Wellness at Euromonitor International, at diana.cowland@euromonitor.com


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