Fiber offers a  glimmer of hope amid EFSA health claims carnage

Fiber offers a glimmer of hope amid EFSA health claims carnage

Although health claim regulators in Europe and elsewhere are increasing requirements for scientific substantiation, two claims linking wheat bran fiber with digestive health are available for use.  Despite this glimmer of good news, the overall health claims outlook remains grim.

Despite the very, very slim pickings for the industry in the latest batch of Article 13.1 health claims opinions, suppliers of dietary fiber ingredients, at least, have reasons to be cheerful, according to one expert.

As we have reported previously, in October the European Food Safety Authority, which is assessing all health claims submitted under the EU's Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation (NHCR), rejected 91 percent of 808 opinions submitted for inclusion on the Community List of health claims that are available for any company to use.

Among the few successes, however, were two claims linking wheat bran fiber with digestive health – specifically an increase in fecal bulking and a reduction in intestinal transit time.

According to Julian Mellentin, director of marketing consultancy New Nutrition Business, these positive outcomes highlight “the huge untapped opportunities that lie in products with fiber for digestive health”.

“Health claim regulators in Europe and elsewhere are becoming increasingly demanding in their requirements for scientific substantiation, and this effectively rules out a huge number of ingredients from making health claims,” he explained. “However, the scientific evidence supporting fiber’s digestive health benefits is good.”

This is positive news for fiber, he said, because the market is ripe for products offering digestive health benefits. “Digestive health is consistently named among the top four health concerns that affect consumers and at any one time around 30 percent of people are troubled by constipation. The biggest need is among women, who are three times more likely than men to suffer from constipation, and the over-40s. In fact, by their 60s, around half of people are struggling with constipation on a daily basis.”

Mellentin said fiber had five distinct advantages for any company targeting the digestive health category: “New technologies mean better taste than in the past. Consumers need more fiber. It’s an ingredient consumers accept and offers a benefit they understand. The right fiber in the right dose offers a benefit consumers can easily feel. And, finally, fiber and digestive health is one of the few areas in which it may be possible to create new products that deliver benefits based on science that is relatively non-controversial communicated by health claims which regulators approve.”

Overall outlook still grim so companies focus on 'passive' health claims

Although the fiber news is certainly welcome, in aggregate the outlook for supplement and functional food and beverage product development in Europe is somber. In fact, Innova Market Research has recorded a steep drop in new product development as the health claims process has unfolded.

In researching the European supplements sector, Innova found that 384 new products launched were launched in the first half of 2010, compared with 405 in the same period the previous year—a decline of 5 percent. In the food sector, meanwhile, launches of products with an “active” health positioning declined by 10.5 percent from 2,189 in 2009 to 1,960 this year. By contrast, launches of products with a “passive” health positioning (such as “low in fat”) rose 18 percent from 8,747 to 10,350.

“Manufacturers seem hesitant to launch new products with a strong health benefit claim if there is a chance that they will have to make a change to their labeling in the near future,” said Lu Ann Williams, Innova’s head of research.

Peter van Doorn, chairman of industry group the European Federation of Associations of Health Product Manufacturers (EHPM), agrees with Innova’s reasoning that the NHCR is affecting companies’ willingness to launch new products with active health benefits.

“For what we call ‘other ingredients’, which means anything other than vitamins and minerals, the picture was as grim as it was for the previous two batches," he said. "There were hardly any positive opinions.”

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