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Regulatory concerns shifting digestive health focus

22 April, 2015

Digestive or gut health has been a key focus for product activity in functional and healthy foods for many years, but with the tightening up of claims legislation, particularly in Europe, there has been something of a setback in terms of product activity in more recent times.

Over 3.2 per cent of food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights carried digestive health claims of some kind in 2014, up from just 2.7 per cent five years previously.

This indicates that there is still ongoing interest in the sector, particularly in the USA, where the share rose from 3.3 per cent to over 3.6 per cent. EU launches using a digestive health positioning fell from 2.4 per cent to 2.2 per cent over the same period, however.

With the claims situation becoming more difficult, companies are also focusing on the use of specific ingredients, such as wholegrains and fibre, which may already be linked with digestive health in consumers' minds.

High-fibre or source-of-fibre claims were used on nearly 3.4 per cent of food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014, rising to 4.6 per cent in the USA. Wholegrain claims were used on 2 per cent of global launches, rising to 3.4 per cent in the USA.

Wholegrain claims were particularly in evidence in categories such as cereals and bakery products. Bakery products lead globally, accounting for 21 per cent of food and drinks launches using this type of claim, although this is equivalent to less than 6 per cent of total bakery introductions. In addition, 5.5 per cent of bakery launches used wholegrain claims. The two claims combined featured on 9 per cent of bakery launches, rising to 16 per cent in the USA.

Within the bakery market, biscuits accounted for nearly half of launches using fibre-related claims (excluding wholegrains), ahead of bread. In terms of significance however, bread is a clear leader, with products featuring a high-fibre positioning accounting for 15 per cent of bread launches, compared with just over 9 per cent in savoury biscuits and just 5 per cent in sweet biscuits.

In the biscuits market, probably the key area of activity in high-fibre products in recent years has been in breakfast biscuits, virtually all of which are promoted as high in fibre and/or whole grains, and many of which have variants such as fruit & fibre in their ranges.

This started in the UK in 2010, creating a new breakfast biscuits sub-category featuring a raft of new brands. It also heralded a welter of activity in other countries, including Germany, the USA and Australia, as well as a revitalisation of existing breakfast biscuit markets in countries such as France and Spain.

"There is clearly still interest in products for digestive or gut health," according to Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights. "This is reflected in ongoing levels of product activity, despite some of the current regulatory issues affecting health claims, particularly in Europe."

Companies are tending to move to a more general health and wellness positioning for their products, she contends. "They are relying more on existing consumer awareness of ingredients such as probiotics and fibre, the health benefits that they offer and the kinds of food and drinks products that they can be found in," Williams concludes.

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