Tate & Lyle, which recently announced a €36 million ($48 million) five-year plan to find next-generation food ingredients, has used a combination of non-nutritive sweetener, extra fibre and modified starches to create its Rebalance System 50 cracker ingredients.
The firm displayed a prototype wholegrain cracker range at the recent Snaxpo 2005 conference held in the US and claimed the product, which contained three grams of dietary fibre per 30g, could be positioned as offering a 'good source of fibre' on shop shelves.
Tate & Lyle also claimed its new formula provided good dough machinability and could produce crackers with a light, crispy texture without the need for artery-clogging trans-fats, which are due to be banned in the US next year.
Jonie Simms, of the group's food ingredients department, said she had received some really good responses on the prototype from conference guests.
Simms did not confirm whether the sweetener used was the company's much-touted Splenda product, but said this had been important in improving flavour and lowering the glycaemic index (GI) of the crackers; a term she believes consumers will be increasingly interested in.
"GI is getting bigger and it's something that will definitely be on the radar screen. I think consumers will understand the basics. Two years ago no-one had heard of low-carb and look what happened there," she said.
GI, a scale used to measure how quickly certain foods release carbohydrates which then raise consumers' blood glucose levels, has been touted by some as a more moderate alternative to the Atkins diet.
Foods with a higher GI, including many baked goods such as rice cakes, bagels and white bread, release carbohydrates into consumers' bloodstreams more quickly and so raise blood sugar levels more rapidly - making them increasingly associated with a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Consumers and food producers on both sides of the Atlantic have shown growing interest in GI over the last year and, in response, the American Association of Cereal Chemists recently formed a committee to work on a measurable definition that will enable manufacturers to communicate the glycaemic response in grams per serving.
In the UK, baking firm Warburtons says it is set to market a new white bread with the goodness of wholemeal and a low GI position. And a GI testing service set up at the University of Reading said it had trialled more than 100 products in the last year with strong interest from manufacturers and ingredient suppliers.
Simms said Tate & Lyle planned to launch its new Rebalance ingredients formula "within the next month or so", and was looking to markets in both Europe and the US.
She said the company though it had spotted a gap in the market as mainstream food companies like General Mills begin to advertise the advantages of wholegrain, yet few options for whole wheat or wholegrain crackers actually exist.
The US and UK snack markets are the most developed in the world with consumers eating an average of more than 9kg and 7kg per year respectively. However, recent research by market analysts Datamonitor found that in the UK "providing healthy on-the-go solutions is poorly developed".
The typical British consumer ate on-the-go 372 times during 2004 but just 119 of these occasions were considered to be healthy, says the report, even though earlier research last autumn claimed 83 per cent of Britons saw diet as the main way to improve health.
Tate & Lyle, which is already set to manufacture its Splenda sweetener for Coca-Cola, will now use its new investment strategy to try and get ahead in the push for healthier ingredients in foods.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr Gary Frost of Hammersmith Hospital, London, said that the obesity crisis could be tackled by replacing unhealthy ingredients in processed foods with healthier substitutes.
Most of the big players in the global snack industry have shown interest in tapping into consumer health trends, even if only to offset the threat this trend poses to their 'traditional' snack products.
PepsiCo, despite the continuing success of Frito-Lay in the face of a global obesity problem, recently pledged that that 50 per cent of new products will use "essentially healthy ingredients or offer improved health benefits".
And Kellogg's new wholesome snacks portfolio, including a range of snack bars and fruit snacks, was named as the firm's most profitable business unit by financial analysts Goldman Sachs. The unit is forecast to grow by eight per cent annually up to 2009.