The satiety-promoting products, which aim to make consumers feel fuller for longer, are the most commercially developed of the three groups. These are often based on combinations of fibres (oligofructose, inulin, guar gum, polydextrose, corn) and/or proteins (soy, whey, milk, pea, potato), although there are also established lipid-based systems such as DSM's Fabuless, which is derived from oats.
"The satiety market has strong growth potential because it's something that's easily felt by consumers," says Laura Freeman, senior market analyst at Leatherhead Food Research (LFR). "Fibres and proteins are key ingredients according to our data [from 2009]. They're natural and nature-derived, which enables them to tap into another key trend."
But the fuller-for-longer crowd don't have it all their own way. Many possible metabolic boosters or 'fat burners' are emerging as competitors, including caffeine, capsicum and green tea catechins.
The third group the fat blockers are a relatively exclusive clique, with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) leading the way, followed by chitosan and L-carnitine.
Companies that succeed in the weight management market can expect supersize rewards. LFR released a report on weight management late last year that valued the global market in 2009 at $7.3bn and counting, with worldwide growth running at between six and eight percent a year for at least five years. "We found that the growth in weight management ingredients in Europe is about eight percent a year, so it's slightly higher than the average global growth," says Freeman.
LFR says global activity has been led by innovations in bakery and cereals (33.5% of the market) and beverages (28.4%). Cereals in particular have a great ability to incorporate specialist weight management ingredients and are perceived by consumers as convenient and healthy.
But Freeman says beverages are emerging as an especially exciting area for new applications in Europe because they're easy to incorporate into a daily regime. Easy consumption is increasingly important since some of these functional ingredients rely on people consuming a regular dose in order to be effective.
For example, German company Sanomed launched its 25ml Shape Up ampoules in May. The fruit-flavoured shots contain Tonalin-branded CLA from Cognis, which is now part of BASF.
Similarly, the stick pack is a popular format that enables people to add dry ingredients to water just before they drink them. Fortitech launched an example with chromium and L-carnitine at IFT 2011.
"Beverages are particularly interesting for strong growth in Europe over the next five years," says Freeman. "It's a very convenient format and development work on soluble fibres will help that market continue to grow."
The potential rewards might be mouthwatering, but there are regulatory hoops to jump through for anyone trying to promote weight management ingredients in European foods.
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) is still ploughing its way through applications for weight-related health claims under Article 13.1 of the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. It released a fourth batch of decisions in April and expects to publish remaining Article 13.1 decisions in a further two batches by the end of the year. EFSA considers that some of the hopefuls have been trying to punch above their weight by making claims without enough evidence to back them up.
For example, a negative decision from EFSA hit firms hoping to claim that CLA promotes weight loss. EFSA also rejected claims that whey proteins can promote satiety more than proteins. And while it judged that caffeine can help improve alertness and concentration, it found insufficient evidence to support claims that it boosts metabolism. These results reflect similarly tough decisions in other areas of health, such as probiotics.
EFSA recognises an underlying problem may be poor experimental design or evidence presentation. EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) has therefore drafted guidance on the scientific requirements for health claims related to appetite ratings, weight management, and blood glucose concentrations.
The first thing it considers is if a claim benefits health. For instance, a diet that reduces body fat is good, but short-term weight loss or a smaller waist as a result of losing water isn't.
Then it considers how to design experiments to back up claims with evidence. Did those in the study represent the target market, for example, and did the study take place over a sufficiently long time (three months for a weight loss effect)? Interested parties have until August to comment on the recommendations.
Firms are keen to make cases under Article 13.5 of the Health Claims Regulation, which considers new and emerging evidence.
Lipid Nutrition says it has nearly completed a 13.5 dossier for its Clarinol-branded CLA. Rather than weight loss, this will focus on Clarinol's ability to shift body composition towards lean tissue.
"EFSA did not give a very good result on weight management but the focus for Clarinol has always been more on reducing body fat and promoting lean tissue," says Lipid Nutrition global group marketing manager John Kurstjens. "The application process takes about six months so we'll hopefully know by the end of the year."
EFSA approved CLA as a novel food in 2010. Beforehand, it was only available in Europe as a supplement. It's already used in North America as an ingredient, with PepsiCo using it in its Gatorade range.
"In Europe, projects are in an early stage of development but there is hesitation with the legislation and claims situation. Once that's resolved, the market will increase rapidly. CLA is one of the few emerging ingredients with a lot of science behind it and that's important for food manufacturers," adds Kurstjens.
The 13.5 application process is very specific to each product, so a positive result for one manufacturer won't give other companies a free ride with their own brands. For example, Glanbia is poised to submit a 13.5 application for its whey-protein based product, ProLibra.
The application is based on clinical trials sponsored by Glanbia. Companies making 13.5 applications for whey-based ingredients need to organise their own research. ProLibra has a specific formulation that the company is patenting in Europe.
While general Article 13.1 whey protein claims focused on satiety, Glanbia stresses ProLibra's ability to promote fat loss and preserve lean tissue for those on low calorie diets.
"If you simply cut calories you're certainly going to lose weight, but if you continue to eat the same kinds of food then between 40 and 50% of that weight loss would be muscle tissue," says Eric Bastian, vice president of research and development for Glanbia Ingredient Technologies in the US. "If you increase your protein level by 60g you can get a shift in weight loss so that 80% of it is fat and you get a preservative effect for muscle. But it's difficult to deliver 60g of extra protein every day, even in two servings.
"We've put together a blend of proteins, peptides and minerals that enables you to get the same effect in just 20g. Our studies didn't see an acceleration of weight loss, but we did see a very big shift in the type of weight being lost." Bastian expects ProLibra to be useful in various food systems,with yoghurts being the most likely candidates.
The proof will be in the pudding for emerging ingredients, and regulatory approval is no guarantee of commercial success. But with the global weight management ingredient market set to double to US$14.6bn by 2015, the level of development activity is not slowing and the number of players getting involved in functional ingredients just keeps growing.
Gelita already offers gelatine-based ingredients for calorie-reduction/fat replacement. It offers processors a chance to cut the fat content of indulgent products such as chocolate (with Instant Gel Schoko); ice cream (with OptIce); bakery and other products (with Vitarcal).
Gelita has never promoted gelatine as a satiety-booster, but even a company with such a hefty existing calorie control portfolio is considering the potential of functional benefits. "Concerning satiety, we're doing something in that direction, but it's still in development," says Birgit Guilleaume, health and nutrition specialist in the R&D division.