Eat your roughage, moms used to say – and they were right. Today, science shows that fibre is associated with a cornucopia of health benefits. It helps promote digestive harmony, reduce cholesterol levels and manage diabetes, obesity and other conditions.
“Fibre is what consumers are looking for the most in nutritional food – more so than omega-3, flavonoids or other elements, according to our studies,” says Sue Potter, head of Scientific Affairs at global ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle. And, says Potter, while most major food processors and manufacturers are already looking at ways to incorporate more fibre, there’s plenty of room for more growth. “This category is projected to grow by 750 per cent over the next five years, according to a Packaged Facts survey. Fibre for kids in particular is big.”
But there are challenges involved in adding fibre to products. Adding more fibre can change the taste and texture of processed foods. And while consumers may say they want more fibre, they often treat it as a duty, rather than perceiving it as a tasty option, and frequently complain about the dry, unappetizing taste of many fibre-enhanced foods. But here too there are opportunities. “About 46 per cent of consumers say they’ll pay more for fibre products that taste better,” says Potter.
Major food manufacturers are moving fast to introduce new fibre-enriched products to capitalize on consumer demand. General Mills, for example, recently introduced its Fiber One bar with a tagline that plays to consumer sentiments: Cardboard no. Delicious yes. “Adding chocolate and caramel to snack bars doesn’t detract from the benefits of fibre,” says Pierette Buklis, Mississauga, Ont.-based senior manager at General Mills. “Many intense and fabulous flavours can be associated with fibre.”
The company has also launched the new Smart Fiesta line under its Old El Paso brand. “We’ve added whole grains to our taco kits and tortillas, so families can think about fibre beyond breakfast cereals and snacks. Although these Mexican foods are traditionally made from corn, that’s not the highest source of fibre,” says Buklis.
Fibre is also turning up in other main dishes, as suppliers and processors increasingly develop alternatives for different applications. Griffith Laboratories Ltd., for example, is developing high-fibre breadings, batters and other coatings for chicken, fish and other meat products. “We’re concentrating on putting these healthier products, which have coatings fortified with whole grains and don’t undergo a fry step, into the consumer mainstream,” says Griffith’s Toronto-based senior manager Joachim Baur.
Baur also points out another fibre addition, GrainBake, that’s both savoury and sweet. “It’s a cereal cluster made from barley and oats that’s fortified with pea fibre and omega-3. It could be used in snack bars but also in entrées,” he says.
But it doesn’t stop there. According to global market research company Mintel, four main categories account for the bulk of new product launches making fibre-specific claims: beverages, dairy, snacks, desserts and ice cream. Fibre-enhanced drinks such as Acquafibra and Kellogg’s Red Raspberry mix are an emerging new category, says Mintel analyst Molly Heyl-Rushmer, adding that “Opportunities exist in both food and drinks marketed as a preventive measure with overweight and obese children.”
New and novel
There are now a multitude of novel fibres available that are either processed from non-traditional sources such as peas, carrots and apples, or that process traditional sources such as corn and wheat more efficiently to maximize their fibre content.
One example is Nutriose, which is processed and sold by Roquette Inc. “It’s a fully soluble fibre derived from corn or wheat that’s being used by many major manufacturers,” says Business Development co-ordinator Neelesh Varde. Roquette’s process grinds whole grains to such a degree that they can be used to add fibre to traditional “white” bread and pasta without altering the taste or colour significantly, which in turn may encourage children to eat fibre-enhanced foods.
“Whole grains have a great image, but they don’t have that much fibre. Most are between five- and 15-per-cent fibre, but Nutriose is 85 per cent because it goes through a special process that concentrates it,” says Varde. Interestingly, he says corn-based Nutriose is more popular in North America, where awareness of celiac disease is high and consumers are increasingly turning to gluten-free products. But in Europe, wheat-based Nutriose is preferred. “I can’t say if that’s due to less incidence of celiac disease there or less awareness,” notes Varde.
Another novel fibre is inulin, which is derived from chicory root. “It doesn’t bind a lot of water so it doesn’t have a significant effect on texture, which can be an issue with some fibres,” says Scott Turowski, technical sales manager for N.J.-based supplier Sensus. “It also has a slight natural sweetness, which is a functional benefit when replacing sugar.” Inulin is approved for use in Canada, unlike fibres derived from peas and other non-traditional sources or that are processed in novel ways.
Fibre in Canada
One major issue, notes Potter, is that Health Canada’s definition of fibre and what can be called fibre on nutrition labels is very narrow and restrictive compared with other jurisdictions, a major bone of contention with some meat processors. Doris Valade, president of Burlington-based Malabar Super Spice Co., agrees: “We can’t add fibre to meat products and make a fibre claim on the label. Valade says that historically, meat processors have used bread crumbs in sausages and cold cuts to bind water, but they’re now looking for alternatives. “All our customers want allergen-free products, so we’re trying to remove gluten and clean up the labels. But using allergen-free fibre has a cost, and it becomes an issue if we can’t make dietary claims on the label.”
To tackle this, Valade says she’s looking at meat proteins for fibre, which is another emerging category. “Processors can extract collagen and flavour from commercially cooked bones to create a powder form, add it to ham to hold water, and label it as pork stock.”
Many products from the U.S. or other countries that use these excluded fibres are nevertheless readily available in Canadian supermarkets – but companies are required to change the labels for these imports. “Companies that use them can’t say the product contains fibre on the label,” says Potter. “We sell a soluble corn fibre in Canada which doesn’t meet Health Canada’s current definition.” As a result, she says, “We have to call it maltodextrin, which is an unpronounceable name that consumers don’t recognize.”
In its current Health Canada definition, fibre has to either be intact or extracted intact from a plant component, explains Potter. “This excludes newer fibres that are extracted from plants but go through further modification to improve their functional benefits in food or physiological effects on people.” However, Canada’s fibre rules may soon change. “In September, Health Canada proposed some new regulations and is asking for comments from stakeholders,” says Potter, adding, “The new rules are less restrictive.”