The early results, revealed at FiE last month, highlighted a functional health benefit of the low-calorie bulk sweetener, often used as a sugar replacer in hard sweets, and also in backed goods and snacks.
It also revealed the growing awareness of prebiotics, a market still in development stage and valued at €87 million, according to a new report from Frost & Sullivan. But while today's the European prebiotic market is restricted to a handful of companies (three companies hold 70 per cent of the market share), new entrants are expected as awareness grows and consumers become increasingly interested in gut health.
Frost & Sullivan predict annual growth of 9.7 per cent to bring the European fructan market up to €179.7 million by 2010.
Closely related to probiotics, prebiotics are carbohydrates thought to stimulate the growth and activity of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut. Ingredients that have so far been identified as having such activity include inulin, fructooligosaccharides, resistant starch and the sweetener tagatose.
Finished products containing prebiotic ingredients include bread, chocolate, yoghurt as well as supplements. However most prebiotic ingredients are also used for their other functional properties, such as inulin which can replace fat or improve texture and mouthfeel. This does however mean that marketing the ingredients as health products is more complex and needs to significantly improve consumer awareness.
In the four-week study on Isomalt, the ingredient was found to stimulate bifidobacteria in a group of 20 people. Full results of the study will be reported next spring.
"People always cited the laxative effect of Isomalt. But in fact, constipation presents a bigger problem for today's consumers," said Claudia Meissner, marketing manager at Palatinit, the product's manufacturer.
She added that the firm is still assessing the potential of the prebiotic effect."Once we found out that the ingredient had a low digestible effect we started to look into prebiotics. But we haven't yet done any consumer research."
Other companies promoting prebiotics at FiE included Sensus, Orafti, Beghin-Meiji and Cosucra. Contact Noel Anderson at Frost & Sullivan for more details on the prebiotics report.