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Tackling the diabetes epidemic: Blood glucose management a ‘significant untapped market’, says Frost & Sullivan

By Elaine WATSON , 14-Aug-2013
Last updated the 14-Aug-2013 at 15:52 GMT

Boulder Brands CEO Steve Hughes: “Diabetes is one of the largest and fastest growing need states in consumer foods today."
Boulder Brands CEO Steve Hughes: “Diabetes is one of the largest and fastest growing need states in consumer foods today."

Given that one in three American adults is expected to develop type 2 diabetes by 2050, foods and supplements targeting pre-diabetics and type 2 diabetics would appear to have enormous potential. So why isn’t the ‘healthy blood glucose’ market exploding? 

Lots of reasons, says Frost & Sullivan global program manager Christopher J. Shanahan, who argues that the market for products helping people maintain healthy blood glucose levels is “significant” and “untapped” given that consumers are looking for alternatives to prescription medications.

No qualified health claims related to diabetes have been approved yet

For a start, marketers are restricted in what they can say, said Shanahan, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after the publication of a new report  which values the diabetic management nutritional ingredients market at $126m (2012) and predicts it will grow to $240m in 2019.

“This is a relatively new growth area for most ingredient suppliers and qualified health claims related to diabetes have not been approved yet for any ingredients in the US. Hence, communicating condition-specific claims to the end user is difficult.

“This in turn, constrains the consumers’ ability to relate product benefits directly to the management requirements of their diagnosis."

Retailers can play a key role in increasing awareness about diabetes and blood sugar products

Second, more research needs to be done to prove these ingredients can improve the health of diabetic and pre diabetic individuals and to raise consumer awareness, he says.

“Retailers can also play a key role in increasing awareness about diabetes and blood sugar products. They must market products that have received scientific validation and have proven efficacy to assist consumers in making educated decisions.”

More work is required by suppliers to tap into this significant addressable market

Solutions are out there, however, he adds, citing alpha lipoic acid (claimed to improve the body’s ability to use insulin and lower blood glucose levels), chromium (claimed to help control blood glucose levels), cinnamon (claimed to enhance insulin signaling pathways and assist with regulating blood glucose levels), but awareness remains low.

Other ingredients with potential in the market include the ayurvedic herb Gymnema sylvestre (claimed to improve insulin resistance), Pterostilbene (a polyphenol found in blueberries claimed to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce glucose and lipid levels in the blood), licorice (claimed to reduce blood sugar and inflammation), fenugreek (claimed to improve insulin function), and bitter melon (claimed to help cells use glucose more effectively and block sugar absorption).

“A significant portion of the diabetic population are not current users [of foods or supplements claimed to help manage blood glucose] either due to lack of awareness or skepticism, thus more work is required by suppliers to tap into this significant addressable market."

The size of the prize: $6bn?

More than 17 million people in the US over the age of 55 have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, he adds.

“If each of those people were to take a supplement regimen that was effective at preventing costly events related to their disease at a daily cost of $1 per day (typical diabetics spend on average $15-20 a day on diabetes management), then the market's potential would be over $6bn in annual retail sales in the US alone.”

ConAgra Foods: Evidence supports qualified health claim about whole grains and type II diabetes

As for more familiar food ingredients, ConAgra Foods says there is “ample scientific evidence ” to support a qualified health claim about the relationship between whole grain consumption and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

However, it has not yet heard back from the FDA about a petition it filed to gain regulatory approval for such a claim early last year, said a spokesperson: “The petition is still working its way through the system, so has been a bit delayed.”

Boulder Brands: Diabetes is one of the largest and fastest growing need states in consumer foods today

Another food manufacturer that has signaled its interest in blood glucose control is gluten-free giant Boulder Brands, which recently acquired a controlling (80%) stake in GlucoBrands, the owner of Level Life Foods - a specialist in diabetes management products.

Boulder Brands CEO Steve Hughes said: “Diabetes is one of the largest and fastest growing need states in consumer foods today.

"However, it is an under-served market with few brands offering great tasting products with the optimal balance of sugar and carbohydrates."

Healthy blood sugar’ is a better way to communicate with consumers

Several industry watchers also believe pre-diabetes could be the next big opportunity in the functional foods and beverages market, although things have moved on since the low-carb, low-GI craze.

Speaking to us last year Jeff Hilton, co-founder of marketing consultancy BrandHive, said: “Low-GI was a hot trend for a while, but consumers just didn’t get it. And as for talking about metabolic syndrome [in which insulin resistance is a key component] forget it.

"'Healthy blood sugar’ is a better way to communicate with consumers, although it will still take a lot of education. But I do think there is a huge potential in this market as so many people are pre-diabetic.”

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