Eight winners: Are EU diabetes-metabolic syndrome health claims set to explode?

By Diana Cowland

- Last updated on GMT

Eight diabetes-metabolic syndrome health claim winners

Related tags Metabolic syndrome Blood sugar levels Diabetes mellitus Blood sugar

Eight ingredients have won EU health claims that can be used to back messaging around metabolic syndrome – although the take-up to date has been lacklustre, says Euromonitor analyst, Diana Cowland.

“Maintenance of blood sugar level”​ claims - valid from December 14 - can be linked to diabetes, decreased satiety, cardiovascular disease and the “metabolic syndrome”.

Yet few products appear to use the health claims approved in May 2012, therefore expansion of the product variety would allow companies to tap into a growing, but under-catered for audience. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates one quarter of the world’s adult population has metabolic syndrome.

Low-glycaemic index diets that prevent this ‘spike’ from occurring are promoted as beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes but few products target those with, or at risk of, the metabolic syndrome – the cluster of prime risk factors for cardiovascular disease, namely central obesity, high blood pressure, a disturbed blood lipid profile.

That means high levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, a pro-inflammatory state and intolerance to glucose, which could ultimately lead to diabetes.

Although genetic predisposition undoubtedly plays a major role, metabolic syndrome is ultimately triggered by lifestyle factors, such as the typical ‘western’ diet.

Innovate to alleviate the €365bn diabetic burden

Diabetic products could prove to be highly lucrative, especially as they move from the PARNUTs regulatory umbrella into the general food law in the EU.

According to the IDF, there were 352m type 2 diabetes sufferers in 2012, a number set to rise to 524m by 2030. In 2012, the global public health cost of diabetes was a staggering €365bn, while just €235m was spent globally on diabetic foods.

Eight ingredients ripe for picking

Seven of the ingredients gained approved claims for a reduction in post-prandial glycaemic response: Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), arabinoxylan produced from wheat endosperm, alpha-cyclodextrin, beta-glucans from oats and barley, sugar replacers like high intensity sweeteners, pectins, and resistant starch.

Chromium also gained a claim for the maintenance of blood sugar levels. Apart from alpha-cyclodextrin, there is no bottom limit set on the amount of ingredient used and so those products which already contain these ingredients are ripe for cheap innovation.  

Beta-glucans, Arabinoxylan, alpha-cyclodextrin and resistant starch

Predominantly found in wheat, oats and barley, these ingredients offer the most opportunity due to their wide consumption and application in bakery products. Bread, for example, contained 99% of all beta-glucans consumed globally in 2011. As such, any innovation or even simple repositioning of products would be relatively cheap.

Brands which have entered into diabetic bakery remain small; sales are led by Schneekoppe from Laurens Spethmann Holding AG & Co, whose sales did not exceed US$10m (€7.74m) in 2012. However, products such as Hovis’ Hearty Oats and Oatly’s Oat Drink contain beta-glucans and GlaxoSmithKline’s Horlick’s, with its high wheat content, could simply apply these claims. 


Pectins hold a large opportunity. Recent research findings on the phenolic compounds in stone fruits found peaches, plums and nectarines to contain a number of phenolic compounds – anthocyanins, chlorogenic acids, quercetin derivatives and catechins – which appear to counteract the metabolic syndrome. Chlorogenic acid in particular has shown to stabilise blood sugar levels, which in combination with pectin would be a promising characteristic for products positioned at both diabetes and weight management.

In 2011, 42,336 tonnes of pectins were used globally in yoghurts and jams and preserves. Even though the latter sees global consumption equivalent to US$8.5bn (€6.58bn) in 2012, they have for a while lacked innovation. By marketing the health benefits, this claim could give the product a much needed boost and healthy positioning.

Global Consumption Volume of Beta-glucans and Pectins, 2006-2016.

Beta-glucan and pectins

Source: Euromonitor International

Sugar replacers

The simple use of sugar replacers such as xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and sucralose are used widely in confectionery and beverages; as such, the market is relatively saturated. With little room for innovation those looking to use this claim should reposition their product. Multinationals are starting to gain a share in diabetic confectionery; yet as Nestlé SA and The Hain Celestial Group Inc lead global sales with a combined retail value of just US$45m (€34.81m) in 2011, the category still holds potential. 


HPMC is still gaining ground as a food ingredient; however, its applications include acting as an emulsifier, stabiliser, suspending agent and thickener amongst others. Therefore it can be used in a wide range of products including bread and dairy based yoghurts and drinks.


Although the human body only requires chromium in trace amounts, the claim for maintaining blood sugar levels has already been adopted by some products outside of the EU. Chinese brand Alpha from Tianjin Alpha Health Production Co Ltd, for example, has a milk powder with added chromium for "anti-diabetes"​, tapping into an ever-increasing target market. The IDF estimates that in 2011, China’s prevalence of diabetes stood at 92 million.

EU Breakdown of Diabetic Food Sales, 2007-2012

Diabetic breakdown

Source: Euromonitor International

The use of these claims for diabetes is further analysed in Euromonitor International’s latest report on the latest EU health claims titled: Impact of New EU Regulations on Functional Food/Drink Claims (Part 3: Opportunities and Challenges).

Diana Cowland is a health and wellness analyst at Euromonitor International.

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