New “Maintenance of Blood Sugar” EU Claim Opens Door to Targeting Metabolic Syndrome

The legalisation of the EU’s article 13.1 on 14 December 2012 has opened up new focus areas for functional food and drink, one of which is the maintenance of blood sugar levels. Spikes in blood glucose are linked with decreased satiety, cardiovascular disease and the “metabolic syndrome”. Although genetic predisposition undoubtedly plays a major role, the condition is ultimately triggered by lifestyle factors, such as the typical “Western” diet. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that a quarter of the world’s adult population had metabolic syndrome.

The metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of prime risk factors for cardiovascular disease, namely central obesity, high blood pressure, a disturbed blood lipid profile: 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.

Innovate to alleviate the US$471 billion diabetic burden

Diabetic products could also prove to be highly lucrative. According to the IDF, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes stood at 352 million in 2012 and is set to rise to 524 million by
2030. The IDF reports that in 2012 a staggering US$471 billion was spent globally due to diabetes, US$50 million more than was spent on health and wellness food in the same year, but sales of diabetic food stood at just US$303 million.

Low-glycaemic index diets which prevent this “spike” from occurring are promoted as beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes but there are relatively few products on offer in the EU specifically to those with, or at risk of, the metabolic syndrome. None of which appear to have used the claims approved in May 2012, therefore expansion of the product variety would allow companies to tap into a growing, but under-catered for, audience.

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, ie high intensity sweeteners, pectins, and resistant starch. Chromium also gained a claim for the maintenance of blood sugar levels. Apart from alpha-cyclodextrin and beta-glucans, 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$10 million in 2012. However, products such as 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$8.5 billion 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

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

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$45 million 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

EU Breakdown of Diabetic Food Sales, 2007-2012

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.