The percentage of new food and drink products in North America being marketed as high in fibre has risen to 4.2 per cent in 2004, having remained at around 2.5 per cent for the last four years, according to the US-based Productscan Online database of new products.
Executive editor of Productscan Online, Tom Vierhile, said: "There is no doubt that consumers could use more fibre in their diet. An emphasis on fibre could help consumers forget about the fading low-carb trend while helping the packaged food giants restore the health credentials of some of their core offerings," said Vierhile.
With 125 new, low-carb products hitting supermarket shelves since August 2003, Vierhile believes the market has reached saturation levels.
A survey of 2,500 Americans by financial advice company, Morgan Stanley, revealed that the number of people on low-carb diets fell from 12 per cent to 10 per cent between January and June this year.
Vierhile said that high-fibre products would not necessarily replace their low-carb counterparts but that the high-fibre was emerging as a potentially lucrative new market for food producers, after being "there under the radar for some time".
This, he said, was being driven by growing concerns over healthy eating and obesity, coupled with the more obvious health advantages of fibre-enriched products compared to low-carb diets.
At the end of August this year, a dietary guidelines advisory panel of the US government recommended that people eat at least three servings of whole grains daily.
"Politically speaking, a lot of big food companies in the US and also the EU need to be seen to show some responsibility in trying to tackle a global obesity problem," said Vierhile.
"There is a worldwide danger that we will see legislation introduced to regulate the food industry, such as taxes on foods deemed more harmful to health, and companies are fighting against that," he said.
"The challenge for all packaged food makers is to make processed food 'better for you' by not processing out natural ingredients, and high-fibre products are one step on the road to accomplishing this," he added.
Vierhile believes a high-fibre trend would also especially help bread, pasta and cereal makers, whose traditionally higher carb products have been "stymied by low-carb diets". He said that these producers in particular could use high-fibre products to show the public that they are responsible in health terms.
Some large food companies are already peddling the high-fibre revolution. General Mills recently launched its Oatmeal Crisp Triple Berry Cereal in the US, for example. The whole grain oats used to make Oatmeal Crisp are rich in fibre and low in fat, while the cereal also contains a combination of real blueberries, sliced strawberries and whole raspberries.
US-based ConAgra Foods also introduced its Ultragrain White Whole Wheat flour at a recent trade show. The flour is higher in dietary fibre, potassium, niacin, magnesium and vitamin E than refined, unenriched wheat flour.
ConAgra is currently marketing Ultragrain to food processors for use in everything from bread and muffins to sweet products. The company also reportedly plans to use Ultragrain in a selection of its own products but it is not yet known which ones.
Italy-based milling company, IPD Srl, has just introduced its new FiberPast pasta in the US. The company claims FiberPast has double the fibre content of pasta made with whole-wheat flour, and that this in-turn reduces fat and carbohydrate absorption by the body.