Prebiotics are defined as “selectively fermented, dietary ingredients that result in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health”. The most researched and well-known are inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Others include galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and xylo-oligosaccharides (XOS).
Consumer awareness is lower than for probiotics, but market research figures show that almost 1 out 2 U.S. consumers associate prebiotics with a healthy digestive system, said Jon Peters, President of Beneo Inc.
“This is an important fact considering that digestive health is an ongoing trend in the US with 61% of US consumers being concerned about maintaining digestive health and 43% looking for products to actively improve digestive health,” Peters told us. “Particularly appealing for consumers is that prebiotics improve a body’s function naturally. They like the fact that prebiotics help the body support a natural process.”
And markets are growing in line with consumer awareness. Global Industry Analysts estimated the US prebiotic market to be worth $180.7 million in 2014, up from $159.6million in 2013. The market is projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 15% during the analysis period 2013-2020 to hit $424 million by 2020.
“This is a higher growth rate than the worldwide expected growth of about 11% during the same period,” noted Peters. “Fructans (including chicory root fiber inulin and oligofructose) represent the largest segment of the U.S. prebiotics market.
“One reason why the prebiotic market in the US is growing so strongly is that consumers are increasingly becoming more aware and open to ingredients in food products they consume. A major factor driving this trend are the marketing efforts from manufacturers of cultured food. While digestive health was once an uncomfortable topic, it is now increasingly gaining prominence in the US. More and more customers are acknowledging the importance of gut health, thus increasing the demand for products that will enable good gut health is gaining impetus.”
The addition of chicory inulin to the list of dietary fiber would also help the market, and Beneo worked with Cosucra and Sensus to submit a citizen petition to the FDA recently with such a request: The FDA recently outlined a new definition for dietary fiber, which defines dietary fiber as either naturally occurring fibers that are intrinsic and intact in plants, or as isolated or synthetic fibers that have demonstrated a beneficial physiological effect.
The Citizen Petition requests the addition of chicory inulin, encompassing all chicory inulin-type fructans, to be added to the list of dietary fiber accepted in the US. The rationale for this submission is to display the totality of pertinent data that convincingly shows the beneficial physiological effects of chicory root inulin.
“Beneo shared extensive scientific data including unpublished new science with the FDA,” said Peters. “Beneo is confident that the FDA will conclude that inulin and oligofructose/fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are dietary fibers from a scientific point of view as well as in accord with the US labeling rules.
“We learned from FDA, that when the FDA needed to close their evaluation process to get ready for the publication of the final rule, they simply had not finished the evaluation for inulin-type fructans due to the large amount of science around them. The FDA is now processing the evaluation and we hope that the FDA will extend the list quickly.
“If not, the consumer will have less healthy options in the marketplace. This is because less fiber will be incorporated in foods than ever before. Having in mind that consumers eat only about half of what they should eat in fiber, this scenario is a real threat. Healthy eating is at stake.”
Digestive health and beyond
While consumers will look to the potential digestive health benefits of prebiotics (prebiotic effect, bowel function) Beneo has sponsored a lot of research into other potential health effects, including weight management, blood glucose management, and bone health (via enhanced calcium absorption in the gut).
“More than 20 years of nutrition research on Beneo’s chicory root fibers inulin and oligofructose provides a comprehensive body of evidence and makes them the best-researched dietary fibers worldwide,” said Peters. “To date, more than 150 high-quality human intervention studies for inulin and oligofructose are available confirming their health benefits.
“Several studies (approximately 45) have consistently demonstrated that chicory root fiber consumption influences gut microbiota composition and results in higher counts of bifidobacteria, supporting digestive health as well as bowel regularity (the prebiotic effect).”
So what’s next for Beneo prebiotics in the US market? Peters said the company will continue to support scientific studies to strengthen existing health indications, and explore potential new health benefits. “Bacterial metabolites are signals to the brain with regards to hunger and satiety,” he said. “A team of researchers around Prof. Gary Frost, Imperial College London, UK, is currently doing exciting research on this subject.
“Other studies consider the effects of prebiotics (again chicory root fiber) on glucose homeostasis.”