Probiotics already enjoy wide consumer awareness but their use is limited to chilled dairy and supplement products. Prebiotics, which are derived from insoluble fibres and oligosaccharides, can however be incorporated into a variety of end products including dairy, breads, supplements, cereals, snacks, beverages, chocolates, meat and confectionery.
Prebiotics are also set to benefit from the promotional efforts of probiotic suppliers, suggests the recent report from Frost & Sullivan analyst Anna Ibbotson.
The promotional efforts of probotic manufacturers have raised public awareness about beneficial bacteria, in general, and the positive impact of probiotic ingredients on gut health, in particular. This comes alongside prevalence of gut health problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease, leading consumers to search for effective preventative measures.
The inclusion of prebiotic products along with probiotics in symbiotic dairy products (such as ToniLait's Symbalance yogurt) is expected to further improve knowledge of and demand for prebiotics.
Other properties of certain prebiotic ingredients, in addition to their prebiotic ability, is also generating further growth opportunity. For instance, the beneficial gut and cardiovascular effects of inulin, a soluble dietary fibre, is well established. But it is also known to boost mineral absorption and lower blood glucose levels.
Oligosaccharides can be included in food applications as substitutes for fat and sugar while resistant starch can be used in the development of high-fibre products. Several prebiotics also have purely practical properties such as enhancing the texture and mouth feel of a food product, without significantly altering its taste.
"Although this widens the market opportunity for prebiotics, it can also make marketing of the ingredients more complex for prebiotic suppliers as it is not always easy to tell what customers are using their products for," warns Ibbotson.
A forthcoming EU regulation on health claims could also fundamentally impact the prebiotics market. These proposals seek to prohibit vague or 'soft' health claims that a foodstuff promotes general well-being while setting more rigorous standards for specific or 'hard' health claims. The law will produce challenges for both prebiotic and probiotic suppliers but could also bring opportunities.
"Claims that prebiotic ingredients are good for maintaining general gut health may not be permitted under the proposed regulations, potentially limiting some market growth," explains Ibbotson.
"However, this also represents a considerable opportunity for those companies that have necessary scientific documentation to gain firm approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Scientific backup is expected to support 'hard' health claims while winning over consumers who value independent scientific evaluation."
The overall European prebiotics market is still at an embryonic stage, with the $87-million fructan (inulin and fructooligosaccharide) segment the most developed. The market for resistant starch products is still developmental with that for other prebiotics (galactooligosaccharides, lactosucrose, soy oligosaccharides and tagatose) even less advanced.
This is reflected in the small number of suppliers in the fructan segment - leaders include Beghin-Meiji, Cosucra, Orafti and Sensus. Competition is, however, set to intensify following the entrance of several new market participants attracted by the growth potential in this segment : it is set to grow to €179.7 million by 2010, according to Frost & Sullivan.
Contact Noel Anderson at Frost & Sullivan for further information on this report, 'European Prebiotics Market'.