The study will help support the firm's ingredient as a growing number of products claiming to have prebiotic effects reach the European market.
Inulin, extracted from the chicory root, is already known to have a prebiotic effect - boosting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut - but while studies have shown 5g of oligofructose, formed through the partial enzymatic hydrolysis of inulin, to have a prebiotic benefit at 5g, Sensus says it is the first inulin producer to prove the prebiotic effects of native inulin at a dose of 5 grams per day.
"Based on the large number of literature data available we were fairly confident that low dosages of Frutafit inulin would be bifidogenic. Still, these results are unprecedented," said Dr Diederick Meyer, manager of scientific and regulatory affairs at Sensus.
"The difference between formulating with the previously tested 10 or 15g doses and a 5g dose, is quite significant if you are making a 200ml drink for example," he added.
Such research is becoming all the more important as competition between prebiotic ingredients heats up. While the three main inulin producers, all based in Europe, have created the market for prebiotic foods, other ingredient manufacturers are increasingly looking to promote the prebiotic effect of their products.
Last year Palatinit, the manufacturer of sugar replacer Isomalt, said it had found the product could have a prebiotic effect. Meanwhile makers of traditional food ingredients such as guar gum and resistant starches are also beginning to promote the prebiotic effects of their products. An Australian brand cereal containing Hi-maize resistant starch has recently launched in the UK promoting the gut health benefits of the cereal.
All three inulin producers - Sensus, Orafti and Cosucra - have recently carried out major plant expansions to meet demand. Belgium-based Orafti says it has seen annual growth above 25 per cent for many years.
But the companies could be under threat from new entrants to the market. Swiss marketing group DKSH has just introduced an arabinogalactan, a fibre derived from larch trees, to the European market, made by the US-based Larex.
While sales of inulin and oligofructose have been driven not only by their prebiotic properties but also their advantages as food ingredients - reducing fat and carbohydrates in food products and enhancing mouth feel, structure and shelf life, new prebiotic ingredients could claim some advantages.
FiberAid, for example, is pH stable and can therefore be more easily added to beverages with a low pH, such as many of the fruit drinks on the market, than inulin.
For the moment however inulin remains the best-known and most well-researched prebiotic, a factor undoubtedly recognised by leading cereal brand Kellogg's. It has added inulin to one of its first new brands in a long time, called Muddles, which claims in its supporting literature that a 30g serving of the cereal provides 2g of inulin, more than a third of the required 5g of inulin each day that can help to optimise digestive health.
Product launches like this are driving sales of inulin, with an annual forecast growth of 9.7 per cent, according to Frost & Sullivan data. The European prebiotics market, currently worth €87 million, will reach €179.7 million by 2010, it predicts.
Sensus' new double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, carried out by Dr Sofia Kolida under the supervision of Professor Glenn Gibson at the University of Reading, found that Frutafit inulin significantly increased the Bifidobacterium content in the human colon at 5 and 8 gram intake per day. The ingredient was tested on 30 healthy volunteers over a period of three weeks.