Tienen, Belgium-based Beneo-Orafti discovered gold when it mined the chicory root for its dietary fibres, inulin and oligofructose. Since 1986, the company has successfully researched, refined and marketed the ingredients, which can now be found in more than 75 countries. The company has production units both in Belgium and in Chile.
And things just keep looking up. As consumers everywhere become more knowledgeable about nutrition, the market for functional ingredients is expanding rapidly. In fact, Orafti ingredients have been added to more than 80 products this year, including meat and poultry products, bringing the total to 330 worldwide that are cobranding using the Beneo label.
"In countries like Spain, for instance, consumers are very open to functional foods. In supermarket dairy sections it is almost impossible to find a yoghurt or other dairy product without a health claim," says Beneo-Orafti's marketing and communications manager, Tim van der Schraelen. "Since 2001, some 7,000 products have added inulin and oligofructose. There are two main causes for this surge. The first is technological. Manufacturers increasingly have a need for a replacement for sugar and fat in their products, and inulin is good for creating smooth textures as well. Secondly, using these ingredients they also can make health claims for their products, based on extensive science, and improve the overall nutritional profile of their product."
The company is doing much to leverage the ingredients' success. "We are doing lots of active promotion. We use the research and the label to talk with doctors and other health professionals, such as national associations of dietitians, about the health benefits. In some places we're even doing radio spots." The company networks with many such associations, van der Schraelen says, as well as conducts consumer research concerning the effectiveness of health claims and messages. "We've been doing this more than five years in 14 countries on three continents, in order to build on our health claims and make the science available to our customers. Right now we're doing all Web-based research in the UK, Spain, France, Germany and the US."
Van der Schraelen says they tap into a database in each country, survey 1,000 people from online panels, asking specific questions about ingredients and health claims. The research seeks a good balance between men and women, regions, shopping habits, etc. "We're looking for the average consumer, excluding extremes such as vegans and people who are nonshoppers. The surveys are in depth, taking 15-20 minutes to complete." Science has been important to Orafti sales, he says. "The more science you have to back up claims, the more chance you have to get approval from the various regulatory bodies to make health claims." He says claims have been submitted in Europe for Orafti ingredients as part of new legislation. He expects positive results in January. "We're sure they'll be accepted. There is lots of science behind them, and our agreements have been approved in other countries."
Recent years have seen the emergence of such terms as 'synbiotics,' a complementary match between select pre- and probiotics. The company has been doing research along these lines, but the results, van der Schraelen says, are not yet clear. "But the area of claims occupied by probiotics are also occupied by prebiotics, and probiotics claims are more or less strain dependent. We are virtually unlimited in our application fields — these ingredients have a long shelf life, are heat resistant, they can be used in bakery products, chocolate, spreads, dairy, juices, cereals, bars … you name it."
It is likely that, with growing awareness of the numerous applications for prebiotics — weight management and satiety, immunity, gut health, heart health, and more — the Beneo-Orafti brand will become even more ubiquitous in the future for people of all ages.