Italians and women are the most interested western Europeans in digestive health claims while Dutch are the least, according to new consumer research funded by French fibre specialist Syral.
The research, conducted in conjunction with Leatherhead Food International in the UK, scrutinised the responses of consumers to prebiotic health claims in five countries - Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK.
While the Dutch were highlighted as the least interested in health claims and had the smallest number of gut health products on market, the research confirmed an overall high level of interest in digestive health claims across major western European markets.
"Understanding of digestive health is moving fast," Syral communication and marketing engineer Celine Hurson told NutraIngredients.com.
"The mainstream press has jumped all over it which has helped drive consumer interest and there are so many products on the market with claims that consumers are actively looking for."
The research considered health claims employed on products containing Syral's prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharide ingredient, Actilight.
About 4000 respondents in the five countries were asked in an online questionnaire to rank the impact of four health claims commonly used on Actilight-containing products.
The claims were:
- prebiotic effect
- improved intestinal conditions
- increased minral absorption
- lipids metabolism
As well as highlighting Italy as the keenest destination for gut health claims, the research found women were more interested in claims than men. Interest in claims also increased with age "particularly for lipids metabolism."
Hurson said some of the results were surprising such as lower recognition rates in the UK and the Netherlands.
But Mintel Global New Product Database (GNPD) confirmed these as the markets with the least digestive health claim-bearing product launches in the past five years compared to Italy, France and Germany.
In 2007, the UK launched only 53 products with digestive health claims. France doubled that number with 106 products while Germany had 100.
Mintel stats reveal the overall sector is in good health, certainly in western Europe, with 406 digestive health-bearing products on market in the five countries in 2007 compared with only 223 in 2006.
The wording of claims including those related to probiotics were also analysed with regional differences highlighted.
"In the UK, wordings referring to 'friendly bacteria' are the most popular, while in Germany, wordings including the presence of 'fibres' or 'prebiotics' are preferred," the research stated.
"In France, Italy and the Netherlands, consumers prefer wordings mentioning 'gut flora' and its 'balance' rather than prebiotics or bifidogenic properties."
Market analyst AC Nielsen estimates the European digestive health market is worth about €2.2bn - including probiotic claims.
Syral's Actilight ingredient is present in yoghurts, biscuits, cereal bars, ice creams, fruit preparations and food supplements.