Fiber Being Pitched As Tasty, Sexy Even

Fiber, the chewy, gummy, indigestable substance that is said to promote both weight loss and regularity, is not known for its taste, but you wouldn’t know it from the industry’s latest spin.

New ads from General Mills, Kraft and Kellogg put taste at the forefront while those other properties go largely unmentioned.

General Mills, for instance, is breaking a TV spot by Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, this week which makes the case for taste over health benefits. In it, a man with a bowl of the new Fiber One Frosted Shredded Wheat cereal runs into a neighbor walking his dog. He tells the passing neighbor that the cereal he is eating “tastes way too good to have fiber” and he is eating it only because his wife wants him to eat more of the substance. As the man asserts, “I eat what I want,” the neighbor nods, indicating that the man’s wife is standing behind his back. The commercial ends with the tagline, “Cardboard no. Delicious yes.”

Kraft, meanwhile, recently introduced two new line extensions to its South Beach Living brand: Fiber Fit cookies and granola bars. Online ads, created by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, tout the new products as being “high in fiber and bursting with flavor.”

Kraft rep Sydney Lindner said the launch coincides with consumer demand for more fiber options, but also “products that deliver fiber and taste great.”

Kellogg, similarly, will begin marketing its new FiberPlus Antioxidant bars with a TV and print campaign running this week that argues that tasty, fiber-laden snacks will contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Leo Burnett, Chicago, handles.

The push comes at a time when New Year’s resolutions are at their peak, and fiber, which is touted not just as a way to increase regularity but also for its ability to let consumers stave off hunger, has supplanted weight loss fads like low-carb, low-sugar and low-fat diets.

Sales of ready-to-eat cereals containing fiber shot up by 3 percent in a $6.6 billion category for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, versus the previous year, per IRI. Breakfast cereal and snack bars sales were up 3.9 percent for the same time period, comprising an industry worth $717 million.

While fiber-laden products accounted for 5.0 percent of new product launches in 2007, that figure was 5.3 percent in 2008, per Datamonitor. The top two categories for high fiber launches in 2008 came from cereal bars (with 125 new product SKUs) and breakfast cereals (118 new SKUs).

Part of the category’s success comes from the marketing, which makes the fiber content overt, but downplays the health benefits. 

The fact that marketers are shying away from in-your-face messages about fiber’s digestive properties is hardly surprising, said Tanya Zuckerbrot, author of The F-Factor Diet, a book about fiber’s role in weight loss. Zuckerbrot said she believes the industry is bent on changing the image of fiber as a remedy to constipation. That reputation was reinforced in the 1980s, when Kellogg ran commercials hailing fiber’s role in “reducing the risk of some cancers” after President Reagan was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“That was sort of the old image of fiber,” she said of fiber’s role as a digestive aid. “They’re not using it as a marketing ploy because it’s an accepted benefit and there’s a hint of negativity to it.”

Besides, Zuckerbrot added, consumers who get their daily intake of fiber might see that message and think, “I go to the bathroom regularly. Do I still need someone to tell me that?” Zuckerbrot said. “It’s like a built-in way of dissuading the consumer.”

As marketers produce more products sporting the inclusion of fiber, some critics charge that they are presenting a watered-down version of fiber, which makes the substance less effective.

For instance, Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition and health studies professor, said she wonders if fiber’s sudden popularity is all that good for consumers. Nestle said the real question is what kinds of fiber marketers are putting into these products.

“Whole grains are one thing. Isolated fiber is another,” she said. (The former refers to fiber derived from natural sources such as fruits and vegetables, while research shows that isolated forms, such as inulin, have a minimal impact on lowering blood sugar.)

Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, said the fiber craze isn’t necessarily a good thing for consumers. “Companies are creating a buzz because they’ve tapped into a supply of fiber they can incorporate into food without making it taste funny,” she said. “The problem is, the fiber that’s being added into this food isn’t technically so good for you.”

Kraft, nonetheless, maintains that its Fiber Fit Cookies contain five grams of whole grain per serving (much of that comes from oat fiber, inulin and oatmeal, per the product’s packaging).
Despite such criticism, few consumers seem to be questioning the health claims behind fiber.

Instead, the fact that any kind of fiber is healthy is accepted as conventional wisdom, though marketers seem to prefer their pitches for fiber, like their fiber-laden products, sugar-coated.
Said Zuckerbrot: “The negative image of fiber is changing. It’s becoming younger and sexy.”