Prebiotic ingredients, or those that boost the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut, are being increasingly added to foods as the insoluble fibres are stable in a wider variety of applications than the better known probiotic bacteria - currently limited to chilled products.
In addition, the promotional efforts of probiotic suppliers, who have significantly raised public awareness of gut health in recent years, has allowed for relatively fast entrance onto the marketplace.
Dr. Pretima Titoria, section manager ingredients, Leatherhead Foods, told NutraIngredients.com:"The drive [for the project] came from Leatherhead in response to the prebiotic market, which is currently dominated by inulins and oligofructoses. The question that came out is are there any other ingredients that can perform as well as inulins etc?"
Leatherhead reported in the March issue of their newsetter, FoodNews , that a consortium of ingredients suppliers and food and drink manufacturers had signed up for the 12-month project, with the results remaining confidential and exclusive only to the consortium.
"The study will revolve around the assessment of gut activity in terms of microflora changes and metabolite function using validated systems," explained the organisers in the newsletter.
The industry's individual products will be assessed using an array of validated physico-chemical measurements, including rheological properties and functioning of the prebiotics in product applications.
Eight companies have already signed up for the project, with participation open to companies from anywhere in the world.
The measurements will be carried out in collaboration with prebiotics expert Professor Glenn Gibson from the University of Reading.
Dr. Titoria said that, while the results would only be available to participants, the project offered opportunities for collaborations.
"The participants will have the licence to exploit the results in their areas. It is possible that the participants may work together if their blends (i.e. one ingredient from one company blended with one ingredient from another company) prove to be highly effective," said Titoria.
Currently, the European prebiotic market is dominated by fructan (inulin and fructooligosaccharides) and galactooligosaccharide products, sales of which were thought to be worth about €87m in 2003, according to Frost & Sullivan.
But while the analysts expect this market to grow to €179.7m by 2010, growth will be affected by the impending EU regulation on health claims. The proposals seek to prohibit vague or 'soft' claims that a product can promote gut health, making clinical evidence of benefits vital to any 'hard' claims made on finished products.
Opportunities for joining the consortium are still available and interested industries should contact Dr. Pretima Titoria.