Fibre gap has untapped potential

Consumers know fibre is good, but not always how to get more of it in their diet. New fibre breads could make the difference.

Health professionals have long warned that the Western diet is seriously deficient in fibre. In Western Europe, the average daily intake is just 60-70%* of the recommended 25g set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

To find out what consumers in four of Europe’s big bakery markets actually think about fibre, we decided to conduct our own market research survey in collaboration with Lindberg International.  
The results point to a genuine desire among consumers to increase their fibre intake. Bread, a staple part of many people’s diets, has the potential to fill the gap.

Here’s what we learned.

Positive health image

European consumers clearly have a positive image of fibre, perceiving it to be beneficial to digestive health (87%), natural (75%), and good for satiety (73%) and weight management (68%). At the same time, four in every five are aware of how much fibre they consume, with 85% believing that they consume too little – a clear indication that they are looking for suitable fibre-containing foods to optimise their diets.

When they buy food, taste and freshness are the top priorities, followed by value for money. Healthy attributes come in fourth, being important to 70% of survey respondents. Among the top health and nutrition criteria they look for, high fibre, heart health, digestive health and weight management are popular benefits. The important message is that fibre content and a good taste and texture need to go hand-in-hand.

Know your fibre

One relevant question is whether consumers recognise all the fibre ingredients in their food products. Our survey suggests that some fibres typically escape their notice. While wheat bran, corn bran and soluble corn fibre are well known, fibre sources such as polydextrose, inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are not.

However, with 75% stating that they gain nutritional information from on-pack labels, ingredient lists are not so frequently read. The implication is that a clear fibre claim on the front of packaging will have much greater influence on consumer purchasing decisions than the more or less known fibres declared on the back.

As our survey concludes, fibre is clearly a macro-nutrient known and accepted by consumers and with health benefits that are easy to understand. So how can it gain a more prominent place in Western diets?

Bread fits the bill

New fibre bread solutions could be the answer. Tasty, fresh, affordable and perceived as healthy, they meet the four top purchasing criteria when consumers go shopping for food. In one of our previous studies of consumers’ naturalness perceptions, bread was among the product categories deemed most natural.

Generally, breads that are crusty, whole grain or uneven in appearance were perceived as more natural than white bread, seen to be ‘square’, ‘milky white’ and squeezable ‘like a marshmallow’.

According to Euromonitor, sales of high-fibre bread currently grow around 3% a year, and, in 2011, accounted for 12% of bread volume sales in Western Europe.  Along with the consumer perceptions revealed by our naturalness study, that’s a good starting point for fibre bread innovation.
Read more about making wholemeal wheat and whole grain breads with mainstream appeal in this issue of Bakery Performance.

* Source: various JECFA/WHO and national reports

A study of consumer fibre perceptions

Just over 2000 consumers from France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom completed the online questionnaire for our fibre study.

An equal number of men and women were among the respondents, who were distributed among the following age groups: 18-30 years, 31-49 years, 50-62 years and 62+. Education level, working status and household income were also evenly spread.

All the respondents were jointly or solely responsible for the main grocery shopping in their household. None had a specific diet or industry association that influenced their answers.

Healthy Bakery Solutions

The challenge for the bakery industry is to find new ways to reach out to consumers. Many of the big brands are already taking the first steps. Their strategy is to appeal to the one thing that concerns Western consumers most – their health.
Sprouted wheat grains are enjoying a revival as a trendy and nutritious alternative to refined wheat flour. According to the Whole Grains Council, sprouted grains are even healthier than whole grains, which for years have been promoted as a prime source of fibre and other nutrients.
Bread prices have come under huge pressure in European markets where discount supermarket chains have revolutionised the retail grocery landscape in recent times. Along with the free-falling bread consumption that some markets face, this has created serious issues for industrial bakers.
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Every balanced diet needs a good portion of carbohydrates. The recommendation of the European Food Safety Authority is that carbohydrates should account for 45-60% of our total energy intake.
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