Fiber may be best known for improving regularity and most commonly associated with older consumers, but the multifunctional ingredient is getting a makeover thanks to a slew of new products touting its other benefits and targeting shoppers across generations and demographics, according to Mintel research presented last week at the IFT First show in Chicago.
“We've seen some interesting launches” in recent years that are an “indicator of how we see fiber moving into the mainstream and getting a new lease on life,” Stephanie Mattucci, associated director of food science at Mintel, told IFT attendees.
For example, she pointed to the late 2019 launch of Love Wellness Sparkle Fiber, which repackages the once 'gross' and gritty nutrient into easy to swallow capsules in a glittery box that highlights health benefits for skin, hair and nails – and remains mum on its other more well-known, and potentially embarrassing, attributes.
The launch took fiber from the over-the-counter and supplement aisle in the back or side of grocery and drug stores to the beauty counter with a story about how it can help consumers feel more radiant and beautiful by helping to clean their insides.
Long a staple in the powdered beverage segment, fiber also made an unexpected hop into the soda aisle with the better-for-you brand Olipop, which Mattucci explained includes prebiotic fibers to make approved microbiome claims.
Updated benefit claims
What makes the use of fiber in these products notable is not just the categories in which they play, but also the specific benefits and claims about fiber that they make beyond as a digestion aid, Mattucci said.
“Linking [fiber] to other areas of health beyond just gut health will help it grow. So things like satiety and weight management,” including sugar and fat reduction, but also sustained energy, heart health and healthy aging, she said.
As brands expand consumer awareness of these benefits, they also are more aggressively educating shoppers about how much fiber they need to reap these rewards, noted Mintel Food & Drink associate director Melanie Zanoza Bartelme.
She pointed to Kellogg's Just Right Cereal made with 60% whole grain which talks about how it's fiber content is not too heavy or too light but “just right” for not only aiding digestion and regularity, but also supporting a healthy gut microbiota, satiety and energy.
Guud's Athlete Fuel Modern Muesli cereal also positions its 6 grams of fiber per serving as healthy “feel good” fuel, she said.
And finally, she noted, even long-time fiber promoter Metamucil is updating how it talks about it's star ingredient in it is Fiber + Collagen Peptide Rejuvenation Blend dietary supplement, which it describes as supporting healthy hearts, joints and overall aging.
Beyond roughage to a broader set of health benefits
While holistic messaging like that promoted by Metamucil's new Fiber + Collagen blend may once have been considered too broad, Mattucci noted that one of the top reasons that modern consumers want to support their gastrointestinal and digestive health is to feel their best (as noted by 70% of respondents in a Kantar Profiles and Mintel survey published in June 2021).
Likewise, 54% said they wanted to prevent future health problems, 40% wanted to improve the immunity and about a third wanted to improve their mood, sleep and weight management.
As brands look to capitalize on fiber's potential to meet these consumer demands, they likely can do so more confidently now that FDA finalized in 2018 its guidance on dietary fiber, Mattucci said.
She noted that when FDA began its review of fiber in 2016 and 2017, fiber claims on new product launches dipped to about 3% in 2017-18 from about 4% from 2015-16 after steadily climbing from about 1% in 2009 and 2010.
“People were a little hesitant [about] making fiber claims [because they worried] if the fiber I’m using is even going to be considered a fiber,” she said. “Now that is all cleared up, and we have that established definition and list of ingredients, I anticipate we will see fiber claims coming back – especially as we see this renewed interest in getting more fiber.”
Where next for fiber?
While fiber can clearly succeed across categories, some are easier launchpads for new products featuring the ingredient – including breakfast foods, fruits & vegetables, and snacks, Mattucci and Bartelme said.
Cereal is a classic place for fiber to play, but the women noted that many younger consumers aren't making the connection the same way earlier generations do.
Younger consumers are prioritizing high protein and low sugar rather than fiber when selecting cereals
Mintel research found that while 75% of baby boomers consider high fiber a healthy attribute of cereal, only 60% of Gen Xers feel the same with the number dropping even more to 48% for Millennials and 34% for Gen Zers. Younger consumers are prioritizing high protein and low sugar when selecting cereal.
Bartelme said one way cereal brands can better engage young shoppers around fiber is to breakdown the different benefits of fiber in cereal or pair it with complementary ingredients, such as probiotics, as in the case of UK cereal brand Spoon, which pairs millions of live cultures with fiber to support a health gut, body and mind in it is Maple & Cinnamon Happy Gut Granola.
She also noted that cereal isn't the only platform for fiber to play in the breakfast space – pointing to callouts for the ingredient by Kodiak Cakes' Frontier Flapjack & Waffle Mix, which claims to be full of fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants for long-lasting energy.
Yogurt is another breakfast staple in which only 2% of players make fiber claims but for which 17% of US yogurt buyers say that they seek high fiber attributes when shopping the category.
Other emerging areas where fiber can play a pivotal role including products designed to help manage blood sugar response or specialty diets, specifically the low FODMAP diet which limits the types and amounts of fiber followers can consume, snacks and side dishes, according to Mintel data.