Normalisation over niche
More than 2.1 billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese and at risk of major chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart problems. That is more than all the smartphone users in the world (approximately 1.8 billion). Whilst not everyone is concerned about their weight, many consumers are taking active steps to get their weight under control resulting in a combined global market for weight management products, services and equipment estimated to be worth $148.1 billion and set to grow at a CAGR of 6.9% to $206.4 Billion by 2019.
Diet food makes up the largest share of the market with North America being the biggest region due to its rising obese population including a rise in childhood obesity rates. Key players still include familiar names such as Atkins Nutritionals, Herbalife, NutriSystem and the Kellogg Company. Within the diet service and support segment Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, eDiets.com, VLCC Healthcare and Slimming World remain the market leaders. However obesity experts are predicting that this landscape is likely to change as maintaining a healthy weight may get much easier during the next few decades with new types of evidence-based interventions, such as foods created to be more satiating, helping to reverse the upward trajectory of global obesity rates.
“Food scientists over the years have spent most of their energy on issues of food safety and cost. And they’ve been unbelievably successful. Where I see a huge gain is if they start turning their direction toward making food nutrient-advanced, lower-calorie and even more satisfying.” Brian Wansink, Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University
One indicator of change has been the decline of Slim-Fast. In July of last year the globally recognised weight loss food brand was bought the firm Kainos Capitol for an undisclosed amount believed to be a fraction of the $2.4 billion it was purchased for by Unilever in 2000 (read more). Sales, having peaked at around $1.13 billion in 2002, then plummeted. The US, its biggest market, has seen sales decline by around 40% over the past five years. The initial decline in sales was attributed to sugar content and artificial flavouring, but even reformulation couldn’t stem Slim-Fast’s dwindling appeal. Where the old approach was to offer weight conscious consumers a product low in calories, but also low in nutrients and taste, modern consumers demand a more ‘healthy’ product that whilst low in calories is also rich in natural nutrients and offers good taste and texture.
The demise of Slim-Fast is also representative of changing attitudes towards weight management. There are many different ways to approach weight management and consumers are slowly coming to the realisation that amongst most successful strategies is a holistic approach that includes regular exercise combined with a diet that achieves a natural, long-term, calorie balance. The short-term nature of the crash diet or artificial ingredients no longer scan and anything that appears unnatural is immediately deemed unhealthy.
A change in how we consume health focused media and information has also had a strong impact. With the rise of digital media, the fall of traditional print magazines and dilution of television, traditional proponents of crash diets such as the woman’s magazine diet celeb and the leathery infomercial brand ambassador have lost a huge amount of their ‘air-time’ to the natural, healthy nutrition + exercise approach championed across social media with models like Jen Selter able to generate a greater following that many a-list celebrities (read more).
Reducing sugar calories
In early 2014 the mainstream media launched an all out attack on sugar singling it out as the boogeyman in kids lunch boxes, the poison in teenagers energy drinks and the biggest culprit in the growing obesity problem. The World Health Organisation recommends the average adult consumes no more than 50g of sugar (about 12 teaspoons) per day. However, whilst sugar consumption overall has fallen by around 0.6%, the average British adult currently consumes almost double this at 23 teaspoons per day and Brazil topping the list at an average 40 teaspoons (read more). As this addiction to sweetness, hardwired into us by our foraging ancestors, isn’t going away any time soon, there is huge potential in seeking solutions that can provide a natural reduction of the sugar calories in our food.
After gaining EFSA approval in 2011 the stevia market has grown by an average of 63% between 2012 and 2014. Its global value as an additive in food manufacture in 2013 was $110 million; a figure predicted to grow to $275 million by 2017. In Europe the biggest regional markets are England and Germany making up for 18-19% of the market each. Double that of the Netherlands, Spain and France who make up an average of 8-9% each.
European categories for stevia according to Innova Market Insights
- Soft drinks 25%
- Table top sweeteners 23%
- Confectionary 22%
- Sports Nutrition 7%
- Dairy 5%
- Other 18%
Currently the main category for stevia use is soft drinks accounting for 25% of product launches. Making some of the most significant moves in this category is The Coca-Cola Company, who in 2012 reformulated regular Sprite in France using stevia for a 30% sugar reduction, before rolling this out in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands the following year. Hot on the heels of this success the company also developed Coca-Cola Life. Launched in Argentina in 2013, and currently being rolled out globally, this new variant of Coca-Cola achieves a 37% calorie reduction using stevia, equating to 89 calories in a 330ml can. Coca-Cola is not the only iconic household name to see potential in stevia. Last month a new variety of Heinz Ketchup was launched in Ireland using stevia to achieve a 50% reduction in sugar.
“In light of the growing awareness of the serious health risks related to obesity, including diabetes, sensible eating and improved fitness are increasingly important to many consumers. ViaTech and Truvía stevia leaf extract, which originates from the stevia leaf, provides sweetness with no calories and can play a useful role in a healthy balanced diet.” Caroline Chabot, Marketing Manager, Sweeteners, Cargill
Even a company such as Tate & Lyle who’s name is synonymous with sugar today announced the launch of its newest ingredient Dolcia Prima Low-Calorie Sugar. The brand name for allulose, Dolcia Prima is a low-calorie sugar that exists in nature and can be found in small quantities in some fruits and foods people eat every day. It was first identified in wheat in the 1930s. The ingredient delivers the satisfying mouthfeel and sweetness of table sugar, but contains 90% fewer calories, so food and beverage manufacturers are expected to be able to significantly reduce the calories in products while maintaining the same taste and enjoyment of sugar that consumers demand.
“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is reducing calories while maintaining the taste experience consumers expect from their favourite foods and beverages. Working with Dolcia Prima, our culinary teams have learned that it is possible to provide consumers with products with all the taste, all the mouthfeel and all the texture they expect, but without all the calories.” Abigail Storms, Vice President, Platform Management, Sweeteners, at Tate & Lyle
Glycemic index management
The vilification of sugar was largely based upon the principle that the body will always prioritise carbohydrates as a fuel source over stored fat which is harder to break down. A reduction of sugar in our diets would force the body to burn more fat for fuel. Glycemic index management is a change of approach that seeks to control carbohydrates and their effects rather than to just simply cut them out. The hormones insulin and glucagon which are produced by the pancreas help to regulate levels of blood sugar (glucose) in order to maintain a natural balance and keep the body fuelled. Consumption of high glycaemic index foods (such as pure glucose which has the maximum 100 glycaemic index rating), which are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream causes an insulin response that increases fat storage as well as a spike and crash effect where a short, sharp boost in physical energy is quickly replaced with feelings of hunger and tiredness. High glycaemic diets have also been linked to the increased incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and obesity. With consumers increasingly aware that low glycaemic products contribute to healthy nutrition, the move to offerings that promote blood glucose management is gaining pace. In fact, in 2013 the number of worldwide launches with a low glycaemic claim increased by almost 20% compared to 2012, with the UK leading the way for low glycaemic NPD, with a 43% increase in new products with a low glycaemic claim in 2013, compared to 2012.
Within its overriding theme “The Power of Less”, Beneo is putting a particular focus on balancing blood sugar levels. Following the positive 13.5 EFSA health claims opinion for the low glycaemic characteristics of its prebiotic fibres oligofructose and inulin, as well as health claim approvals for the functional carbohydrates, Palatinose (isomaltulose) and Isomalt, Beneo is now showcasing how these nutritional benefits can be translated into product concepts. Power Chews are one such concept that incorporate Beneo’s low glycaemic carbohydrate, Palatinose, these chews are not sticky and maintain their soft texture during shelf life. With a sugar-like, mild sweetness, Palatinose has been used in this formulation to bring down sucrose levels and achieve a slower rise in blood glucose.
Glycaemic index is one of many areas being explored by Roquette amongst an every expanding portfolio of natural ingredients for weight management. In February 2014, Roquette also filed a 13.5 health claim application with EFSA concerned the benefits of the non-digestible fibre Nutriose 06, a non-viscous soluble fibre with a neutral taste, obtained from wheat and maize. The EFSA panel recognised that the consumption of foods and beverages containing non-digestible carbohydrates (including the resistant dextrin Nutriose 06) induces a lower rise in the postprandial blood glucose level compared with foods/beverages containing glycaemic carbohydrates, and the claim was duly approved. As well as opportunities for glycaemic index management the company is continuing to deliver significant fat reduction with its algility microalgae brand. Officially launched in June of 2014 having previously won two FIE awards, the high lipid algal flour can provide fat reduction of up to 70% without any detrimental effect on taste or texture in a range of products from ice cream to baked goods.
Protein and snacking
There are many strategies to maintaining a healthy weight. Whilst calorie reduction and glycaemic index management present some of my the most direct solutions, alternative strategies may also offer benefits in a the long term. Protein has approved health claims for muscle health and studies have shown that consuming 20-30g of protein that is rich in the amino acid leucine every 3-4 hours can continue to trigger muscle synthesis throughout the day. With greater muscle mass so increases the body’s total calorific requirement, meaning that indirectly the consumption of protein can help to support weight management in the long term. Whilst the benefit may not be as simple to communicate, the theory is sound as Volac‘s Louise Mahrra explains: (read more)
In a first of its kind in the UK, the Volac owned protein drink brand Upbeat ran a television commercial in early 2014. Rather than attempting to explain the more complex benefit of muscle maintenance for a long term increase in calorie expenditure, the advert focused instead on promoting the whey protein smoothie as a low calorie snack alternative with the strap line “it’s like a bit of extra willpower in a bottle”.
Historically we have always been told not to snack between meals but new research shows that healthy snacking can reduce abdominal fat as well as having a satiating effect. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that a daily snack of 42 grams of almonds instead of a high-carbohydrate muffin with equivalent calories, consumed as part of an overall healthy diet, improved a number of heart disease risk factors in study participants. In addition to significantly improving LDL and total cholesterol, snacking on almonds instead of muffins also reduced central adiposity (belly fat); all three are well-established heart disease risk factors. A further study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that a mid-morning snack of almonds helped control appetite and resulted in reduced calorie intake by the participants during the rest of the day. The study suggests that almonds may be an optimal snack by generating satiety, or inhibition of hunger. Inclusion of almonds in the diet did not increase total daily calorie consumption. As snacking is a well observed European habit, finding healthy snack options is of growing importance.
“We expected whole almonds to be a food that provides satiety because they are a natural source of protein and are high in fibre. However, it was interesting to see the mid-morning snack provided a long-lasting effect on appetite at dinner-time consumption, not only at lunchtime”
Sarah Hull, MSc, Lead Researcher, Leatherhead Food Research
Industry wide response to weight managment
The food industry has already begun to respond as 2013 saw 16 major food and beverage companies have collectively cut 6.4 trillion calories from U.S. food products and in the UK food producers signed up to the Responsibility Deal Saturated Fat Reduction Pledge, agreeing to remove more than one and a half Olympic size swimming pools of saturated fat from the nation’s diet. However some health organisations such as the The Obesity Society don’t think this is enough and continued to call for a further industry wide reduction in calorie dense food.
Food manufacturers have also begun to adopt a new approach of producing calorie reduced staples that can easily be included in diets and on shopping lists on a long term basis without it being a niche purchase. This strategy is similar to that seen in the free-from category where food producers have realised that consumers aren’t keen on separate niche purchases from speciality food sections as it is much easier to feed a family with the same food products rather than having to make special arrangements. But with this comes a higher expectation of good taste and texture.
A positive shift is most certainly underway which has seen diets improve globally over the last 20 years with the consumption of fruit and vegetables increasing. But there is still work to be done, particularly in some of the richest regions like USA and Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand people are still eating the poorest quality of diet with the consumption of junk foods outpacing the rise of healthier eating.
 World Health Organisation
 Institute of Food Technologists
 The Lancet Global Health journal