Gut health has played a major role in the evolution of functional dairy products in recent years but claims about pro- and prebiotic content have now penetrated the cereal market as well. Indeed, one of the key players in the development of dairy probiotics is now applying its expertise towards probiotics for cereal instead."The change of direction of the business was a strategic choice," explains Lal'Food technical development manager, Anne-Laure Clair. "There is a lot of competition in the dairy market, and price is an issue as well. When we decided it was time to find another niche it was only natural that we should turn to cereals since we already have the relevant contacts through our yeast business. It seemed like a good move."
The firm has focused on three bacterial strains for use in cereals: lactobacillus rhamnosus (inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine), lactobacillus acidophilus (can improve gastrointestinal functions; boost the immune system, and provide relief from indigestion and diarrhoea), and bifidobacterium longum (keeps the digestive system running smoothly, blocks the growth of harmful bacteria, and boosts the immune system).
The bacteria are microencapsulated, which makes them suitable for use in food products, however the bacteria can reduce shelf-life by six months and do not react well to high temperatures. To overcome these obstacles, Lal'Food has collaborated with Swiss chocolate manufacturer, Barry Callebaut, to develop probiotic chocolate, which can be added to cereal.
However, not all manufacturers want to add chocolate to their cereal and Lal'Food has developed other techniques for adding probiotics. "There are some manufacturers who like using chocolate drops because they do not interfere with the manufacturing process, however there are others who want to add it directly to the flakes themselves, so we are investigating two other opportunities: a probiotic spray that is applied directly to cereal flakes and a fat-based coating, although neither are likely to be launched this year," says Clair.
Land of milk and money
Plant and milk-derived proteins are also sought after by cereals manufacturers exploring new added value ingredients.
Nutralys pea protein and hydrolysed wheat gluten, from Roquette, is the lynchpin for Kellogg's Special K Sustain cereal in the UK and Special K Proplus in Switzerland, which claim to 'keep you satisfied for longer' and 'suppress the hunger feeling' respectively.
Derived from yellow peas, Nutralys is rich in many amino acids including lysine; the branched-chain amino acids isoleucine, leucine and valine; glutamine; and arginine. These essential and nonessential amino acids have been shown to benefit human growth and development, athletic performance, and recovery from stress, among other things.
Whey protein is also filtering through from the sports nutrition market to mainstream cereals and cereal bars.
Volactive ProCrisp, from Volac International, is a whey protein concentrate developed for use in healthy snack bars. It combines a high protein content with a lighter, crispier and crunchier texture and is easily blended with cereals.
However, its application extends beyond adding protein since it can also be used to replace other ingredients like nuts or to mask less appealing flavours.
Product manager Mark Neville says: "Whey protein naturally contains all of the essential amino acids and has the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which help repair muscle tissue. It's also ideal for the weight management cereal bar market.
"Whey's high amino acid score, high digestibility and neutral taste, combine to make it a very convenient source of protein for those engaging in intense activity, and in smaller amounts, for people leading an active lifestyle. Not only does it have the highest nutritional value of all proteins, it is rightly perceived as a natural product filtered from milk, as opposed to a highly processed 'synthetic' dietary supplement."
According to Mintel, a whopping 789 new cereals and 603 new cereal bars hit the European market in 2007. These contained a combination of added vitamins and minerals; so-called 'ancient grains' like spelt, quinoa and amaranth; wholegrains; fibres, and sugar and fat substitutes.
Bars to help weight control performed particularly well in the six months to March 2008, with new launches from many diet brands, including Weight Watchers, while niche brand, Naturally Gorgeous, has also launched cereal bars containing the appetite suppressant pine nut oil (PinnoThin), from Lipid Nutrition. The original oil-based formula has limited application in food production although its new powder format should prove to be more alluring, predicts global group manager, marketing, John Kurstjens:
"Inulin and oligofructose from chicory roots also offer a variety of opportunities for cereals and cereal bar manufacturers to reduce sugar, fat and calories, in addition to prebiotic, weight-management, satiety and calcium absorption claims."
Frutalose L92 has binding and humectant properties, which makes it especially suited to cereal bar formulations, says market development manager, Monique Van de Wouw. "It has excellent eating qualities and extended shelf-life and it has a sweetness of approximately 50% relative to sugar, with a very pleasant sweetness profile. This enables formulators to reduce or replace nutritive sweeteners, which together with cereals (wheat, oats, etc) form the 'backbone' of a cereal bar. It also enhances (fruit) flavours and can mask flavours created by certain additives."
Rival Beneo-Orafti meanwhile has pioneered research into the ability of a combination of inulin and oligofructose to improve calcium absorption and bone mineralisation, says marketing and communications manager, Tim Van der Schraelen. "There is also a logical fit with cereals as they are consumed with milk, which contains calcium."
But cereal bars are also great vehicles for healthy ingredients, says Neil Hutton, category controller at Ryvita, which has incorporated prebiotic fibres into its Goodness bars: "Many consumers are now looking for naturally occurring/added benefits such as prebiotics in cereal bars."
Polyols have also helped boost the nutritional composition of cereals and cereal bars as most of them contain nutritional attributes beyond simply reducing sugar. "The combined use of Maltisorb maltitol and Nutriose soluble fibre results in no-sugar-added and reduced-sugar, grain-based products that are as good as traditional ones, plus it increases fibre content and has excellent digestive tolerance," explains Roquette market development manager, Sophie-Géraldine Claudot.
"Maltisorb maltitol and Nutriose soluble fibre may help to modulate the glycaemic response of finished products. Energy is released more slowly and steadily than with a sugar-based product, delaying the sensation of hunger and therefore improving the distribution of food intake.
"This is due to the lower and longer glycaemic response and also to short chain fatty acids production in the colon, resulting in extended energy delivery."
Cereals provide a flexible launch platform for new innovations and, as long as consumers continue to drive demand for novel food concepts, they will continue to evolve and provide an ever-increasing range of health benefits.