Prebiotics offer exciting new opportunities for food and beverage companies

Posted by Isobel Drake on 26th May 2009

Food and beverage firms in Europe are discovering exciting new options for prebiotics in infant formula products, dairy and beverages and expanding prebiotic ingredients into new application sectors such as snack products and meat products as consumer demand grows.

New prebiotic ingredients with unique functional properties are entering the prebiotics market and the importance of prebiotic fibres as opposed to general fibres is steadily increasing in market applications. The food industry remains less affected than many others despite challenging economic market conditions. Manufacturers have noticed that the driver of active health management remains the strongest, where consumers will continue to pay for functional ingredients like prebiotics as long as they can continue to clearly associate these ingredients with clear benefits to health.

Recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan on the European Human Food and Beverage Prebiotics Market, has found that the market earned revenues of €295.5 million (A$531.3m) in 2008 and a compound annual growth rate of 14% ensures a forecast for the market to reach €766.9 million (A$1,379m) by 2015.

“Prebiotics in food and beverage products are attractive and extremely useful in a wide variety of applications, as they have properties for enhancing texture, general fibre provision and, most importantly, their primary market driver is their high functionality, which corresponds with the increasingly health-driven market in Europe and the growing importance of digestive health to consumers,” Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst, Dr Deborah Cross, noted. “The majority of the market is governed by the fructans manufacturers (inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide) but increasingly important segments in the prebiotics market are the lactose-derived prebiotics (galacto-oligosaccharide and galacto-fructose), and there is enormous potential for the nascent segment of resistant starch prebiotics in the next few years.”

Although consumers may find it difficult to distinguish between the messages offered by probiotic and prebiotic products in the market, it is widely accepted that all these products have the same goal of improving digestive health. Undoubtedly, the marketing efforts of large food manufacturing companies have contributed positively to raising the development of awareness in the digestive health sector.

“Prebiotics act as food sources or ideal substrates for the growth of probiotic bacteria,” explains Dr. Cross. “In the human food market, the prominent market of digestive health products has been positively associated with the use of both probiotic and prebiotic products, with the view that gut microfloral composition can be manipulated or controlled selectively and positively through the preventive use of both these ingredients.”

Increasing consumer awareness about prebiotics still represents the main barrier to their market growth, however, along with the availability of results from scientific research trials to support their beneficial effect in areas like satiety, calcium absorption and other areas of health. In 2008, only fructan prebiotics are supported by sufficient trial results to be able to claim such a wide range in functionality, whereas the manufacturers of other types of prebiotics require more documentation to support benefits other than the prebiotic effect.

The forthcoming results of the Nutrition and Health Claims Legislation are expected to have a strong effect on the entire functional foods market, as only successfully registered ingredient products will be able to claim positive effects on health and nutrition in the market.