A rush of inulin? Chicory root has 'very good potential' for infant formula, says consultant

By Kacey Culiney

- Last updated on GMT

iStock/  DGLimages
iStock/ DGLimages
Chicory root – the widest used form of inulin in Europe – holds plenty of promise as a digestive aid in infant formula and will be increasingly sought out by manufacturers, suggests a Fact.MR consultant.

Worth an estimated €1.04bn, the global inulin market is set to grow at a CAGR of 5.3% in the next ten years, according to market research firm Fact.MR​. Western Europe represents one-third of this and is forecast to grow at 4.6%.

Dietary supplements continue to represent the largest end-use application for inulin, representing 28.4% of the market, but by 2028 this will drop to 27% as use of inulin in functional food and beverages, clinical nutrition and dairy products increases.

Infant formula represents just 10.6% of inulin use, but Sneha Varghese, food and beverage consultant at Fact.MR, said this will rise, fuelled by chicory root use.

Chicory root dominates the global inulin category, ahead of Jerusalem Artichoke and Agave, and Varghese said this particular fibre will soon gain more prominence in the infant formula space because of its enzyme profile.

It 'closely mimics breast milk' for digestion

“Young babies have an immature digestive system and their gastric tract does not digest enzymes. But chicory inulin contains two enzymes that are found in breast milk – amylase and lipase – and that is the reason that it has very good potential for infant formula in the coming future; the chicory inulin closely mimics breast milk for better digestion of the infants,” ​she told NutraIngredients.

“Chicory is used for a different function when we're talking about products consumed by people who are diabetic – it is used as a low-calorie or sweetener substitute – but that's not the case in infant formula. The enzymes and fibre present in the chicory inulin serve the main function for providing better digestion and function.”

Varghese said whilst use of the root fibre remains “nascent” ​in infant formula and almost unseen in specialty nutritional food and beverage products for infants, it “will catch up”​ in the next few years.

“In comparison with other nutritional end-uses, infant formula will hold a dominating share as an end-use for chicory inulin because of all the advantages it's providing to the baby,” ​she said.

Katrien Lambeens, product manager for functional fibres at BENEO, said there are already a number of product manufacturers incorporating chicory root fibre into infant nutrition products because of its nutritional and functional benefits.

“In milk formula, stool consistency (softening) and a balance microflora (bifidobacterial growth) are certainly the most important topics,”​ Lambeens said, both of which are addressed with chicory fibre.

Scientific studies, she said, show the “safe use and positive effects” ​of BENEO's prebiotic chicory root fibres, inulin and oligofructose ingredients in infants and small children, aged up to two years. “And, the body of research in favour of using inulin in infant nutrition continues to grow,”​ she said.

Organic inulin to gain importance

Varghese said as research and development efforts continue, organic inulin will become increasingly important. The organic inulin category is expected to grow 6.5% in the next decade, according to Fact.MR - up from just 22.6% of the global market and 18.2% of the European market in 2018.

“We'll be seeing huge growth in organic, versus conventional [inulin] which will grow at a rate of 3-4%,”​ she said.

Honorata Jarocka, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said this would align well with broader trends in infant nutrition.

“Strongly influenced by consumer health awareness, the baby food category has witnessed an increased demand for organic attributes. More brands are encouraged to improve their health and quality perceptions by going 'organic',”​ Jarocka said.

“Parental concerns over the safety and healthfulness of baby food are the biggest drivers for the expansion of organic-certified brands. However, although most European parents declare their willingness to pay a premium for organic varieties, affordability is still an important factor to consider when examining further growth opportunities.”

Successful product development, she said, also lies in understanding “trust and transparency are central to inspiring loyalty in baby food”​. Manufacturers therefore must give a greater focus on packaging, she said, including cleaner designs and see-through labels, beyond just embracing organic claims.

Related topics: Markets and Trends

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