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The Future of Fiber

While better-for-you fads may come and go — remember oat bran, cabbage soup, and low-carb diets? — the health halo around fiber-rich foods has been a little more firmly affixed than other foods perceived as keys to a healthy diet.

Fiber has long been touted for its health and nutrition benefits. While adequate fiber intake has been a dietary recommendation for decades, other advantages of dietary fiber are getting more attention. And luckily for grocery retailers, manufacturers are stepping up with a new generation of products.

“Fiber used to be known mainly for its benefits as a laxative, and foods such as prunes, as well as powdered fiber supplements, were common sources of fiber,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, a New York-based registered dietitian and author of “The F-Factor Diet” and “The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear — with Fiber!” “However, in recent years, fiber has become one of the hottest nutrients, acknowledged for its many health benefits, like lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugars, healthy digestion, lowering cancer risk, and more, validated by a wealth of scientific evidence.”

A similar compare/contrast is drawn by Alyssa Nard, director of marketing for Pittsburgh-based nutrition bar maker NuGo Nutrition. “A lot of people used to have this idea that ‘fiber’ was synonymous with ‘cardboard,’ and that only senior citizens needed fiber,” she notes. “But … in recent years, consumers have really become much more aware of the comprehensive health benefits of dietary fiber, and the delicious high-fiber food options available to help provide those benefits. We know that people shopping at grocery stores are looking for fiber-filled foods, and there are now more options than ever to help shoppers check fiber off the grocery list.”

Tracking with that assessment, several consumer studies have revealed a steady interest in dietary fiber. As one example, Zuckerbrot cites a recent food and health survey from the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Information Council (IFIC). “When asked which nutrients they want to consume as much or more often in their diet, whole grains ranked first and fiber was a close second,” she says. That fiber figure rose by 2 percent, to 55 percent, from last year to this year.

Other surveys have found similar attitudes. In its 2015 “Healthy Eating Trends Around the World” report, Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm Nielsen found that almost one-third (30 percent) of consumers in North America rank fiber as “very important” in their food-buying decisions, on par with protein and whole grains.

Fiber Optics

A quick scan of the marketplace supports interest in fiber-rich foods. Nutrition bars represent an already thriving and expanding category, and many of those bars, from major brands like Nutri Grain’s Fiber & Oat Bars, are merchandised as high in fiber.

NuGo’s Nard says that bars are a convenient way to add fiber to the diet. “More and more, we hear that people are looking for ways to find dietary fiber that tastes good and is free of artificial ingredients or added sugars,” she observes. “We recognized the huge potential of a natural, delicious, high-fiber product that people could eat without worrying about gastrointestinal upset.”

Most recently, NuGo launched the Fiber d’Lish bar, a Non-GMO Project Verified item sweetened with fruit juices and free of artificial additives.

Cereal is another category in which fiber is top of mind and often at the top of the package, with cereal from brands including Fiber One, Kellogg’s, Cascadian Farm Organic, Kashi, Nature’s Path and Barbara’s.

Bread is another good example. While it hasn’t been a totally white-bread world for a while now, grocery shelves now include an even greater variety of products high in whole grains and fiber. The line of sliced breads from Orowheat and Brownberry, both part of Horsham, Pa.-based Bimbo Bakeries USA, include high-fiber and double-fiber varieties. Cudahy, Wis.-based Angelic Bakehouse, for its part, recently added a seven-grain wrap to its flatbread line. In the freezer case, Toronto-based Artizo’s Liberate 12-grain rye bread is labeled as “triple fiber bread.”

There are other spots where fiber is showing up more on product labels and promotional materials. The ready-to-drink beverage aisle has grown to include a spate of better-for-you products beyond water, juice, tea and soda, like Morton Grove, Ill.-based Lifeway’s drinkable kefir with oats.

Pastas are getting a new look, too. In addition to gluten-free and veggie pastas, shoppers can opt for whole grain pastas that are high in fiber, like Ronzoni’s Smart Taste pasta, from Harrisburg, Pa.-based New World Pasta Co., which promotes the fact that a serving delivers two and a half times the amount of fiber as regular pasta.

With the advent of better-for-you salty snacks made from beans, lentils and other fiber-rich sources, fiber is likewise included in these snack foods’ product descriptions. Chickpea snacks from Boston-based Biena’s line of all-natural snacks, for instance, are high in fiber as well as protein. Fruit chips, like crunchy apple chips from brands like Manteca, Calif.-based Bare, also have high fiber content and are marketed as such.

Some brands are essentially associated with fiber. The Fiber One brand, from Minneapolis-based General Mills, has expanded over the years beyond cereals and bars to include cookies, brownies and even gummy-style fruit snacks.

In the fresh sections, meanwhile, supermarkets can appeal to shoppers interested in high-fiber food choices. Many fruits are naturally high in fiber, including raspberries, apples and mangoes, to name a few, while darker vegetables, such as broccoli, Swiss chard and spinach, tend to be higher in fiber.

Sharing nutrient information at the point of sale in the produce department can help educate consumers and spur sales. “The produce section probably remains a bit of a mystery for many shoppers, who know fruits and vegetables are healthy, but not exactly why,” observes Zuckerbrot.

Bulking Up Shopper Knowledge

To Zuckerbrot’s point, grocers can connect with fiber-conscious shoppers to highlight fiber-rich foods and bolster consumers’ knowledge.

“Supermarkets are doing more to promote healthy nutrition, some hiring registered dietitians to drive education online, in-store and in the community,’ she says. “Dieters would gravitate to high-fiber produce if [it were] identified as such, with the weight loss benefits explained in communications and merchandising.”

Manufacturers of fiber-rich products are touting the word on their labels to garner attention at the point of sale. “For our Fiber d’Lish bar, we make what’s inside the packaging very clear with the product’s name,” notes Nard, adding that colorful, fun packaging is combined with educational messaging.

Even with the advent of more fiber-rich and -fortified products, Zuckerbrot points out that there’s still room for improvement, not only in terms of merchandising these items to capture shoppers’ attention, but also from a dietary perspective. “While consumer awareness of fiber’s benefits is growing, the fact remains that most Americans still get less than half the recommended daily amount of fiber in their diet,” she points out, adding that most Americans are consuming an average of 9 to 11 grams of fiber a day, compared with the recommended intake of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.

“We know that people shopping at grocery stores are looking for fiber-filled foods, and there are now more options than ever to help shoppers check fiber off the grocery list.”
—Alyssa Nard, NuGo Nutrition

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