More than 60 new products featured in Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) since January make a reference to the glycaemic index, compared with 72 new records for the full 2004.
The majority of these were launched in Australia - 30 per cent, or 19 out of a total of 63 - but 13 new low-GI products entered the UK market, up from only five last year. Nine were launched in the US.
Originally developed over 20 years ago to help diabetics manage their condition, the glycaemic index or GI ranks foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels.
Foods with a high GI (70 and above) are digested and metabolised rapidly, triggering large fluctuations of blood glucose levels and insulin demand, while low- or medium-GI foods (40-69) are digested and absorbed more slowly, giving a slower and sustained release of energy and contributing to longer-lasting feelings of satiety.
But as science emerges showing that low-GI foods can help control weight and more certainly, help reduce the risk of diabetes and related conditions, a wider cross-section of consumers is selecting foods based on the GI index.
The carb-conscious climate created by the Atkins trend is also thought to have stimulated a general interest in different types of sugars.
Many of the latest product launches on the GNPD to refer to GI on-pack are therefore carbohydrate-based foods. They include five different breads, seven bars and several cookies and pasta-based products.
Among the breads is Warburtons All-in-One bread, introduced in the UK in March, and sandwich rolls based on the same recipe rolled out a few months later. The bread is said to be high in fibre, low in fat and sugar, and with a lower glycaemic index than other white breads giving the consumer 'longer lasting energy'.
But yoghurts, beverages and some ready prepared meals like Marks & Spencer's Hickory steak penne in the UK are also promoting a low-GI.
Australia in particular, the birthplace of the GI, does not restrict GI labelling merely to breads and carbohydrates. Launches from the last six months include a vegetable range, borlotti beans, a number of juices, ice cream, caramel chews, fromage frais and yoghurts, and a 'sports water'.
However the majority of low-GI products still specifically target health-conscious consumers and diabetics, with many advertised as 'sugar-free'. For example, Novartis' Cereal and Spanish firm Biocentury, both established health food brands and players in the diabetic foods market, have both introduced new, low-GI products this year.
In Finland, Valio's A+ Jogurtti Rasvaton yoghurt, labelled as low-GI, also has added aloe vera and flavonoids, clearly aimed at consumers looking for extra health benefits and aware of the glycaemic index.
This suggests that manufacturers understand the difficulty for consumers in interpreting GI labels. Research carried out by Leatherhead Food last year found that although one third of consumers were aware of the GI system, most are unable to interpret the often complicated labeling on products.
European firms may also be put off by the uncertainty for GI labelling under future health claims laws. A proposed regulation on health claims does not include a reference to GI in its initial draft and while an informal dialogue with regulators has been initiated by industry to allow for GI health claims, it not yet clear whether reference to the system will be allowed.
Yet some manufacturers are determined to go the way of Australia. Among the more novel recent launches are Heinz ABC's Kecap Pedas hot soy sauce launched in Indonesia, Crema de Mebrillio quince jam now available in Spain and low-GI organic salad dressings in the US.
Other low-GI launches in Europe include one product in Germany, two in Belgium and Spain and three in Finland.
Datasource: Mintel's Global New Products Database