Consumer interest in digestive health is not just limited to dietary supplements; it’s also expanding in food and beverage. Today, consumers have multiple avenues through which to pursue gut health. In fact, the digestive health category is constantly “reinventing itself as new science and products appear,” explains Joana Maricato, market research manager for New Nutrition Business (London). “It’s a space where opportunities flourish, and that’s because [gut health] connects to a strong ‘feel the benefit’ proposition for consumers. Everyone can feel improvements in their digestive health, and that keeps people motivated.”
While digestive health presents businesses with a great deal of opportunity, the sheer variety of products now focusing on the gut may be confusing to consumers. A recent survey from New Nutrition Business shows that consumers are largely confused about what is good for their digestive health. This is particularly true in the case of foods. For example, when New Nutrition Business asked 3,000 people from the UK, Australia, Spain, Brazil, and the U.S. to rank some common foods as good or bad for their gut health, 23.4% of respondents cited sauerkraut and fermented vegetables as bad for their digestive health compared to 15.8% who said those foods were good for them.
According to the survey 76% of respondents found messages about diet and health to be confusing, and when asked where they get information on the subject, 58% said they looked online and read blogs, while only 28% said they consulted a nutritionist. Indeed, changes in official dietary guidelines over the past 15 years have sowed distrust among consumers, says New Nutrition Business, creating a diverse set of ideas about diet and health overall. This survey suggests that there needs to be better and more consistent outreach to consumers in terms of education.
Dietary supplements are not immune to confusion either. For instance, while probiotic is the most recognizable digestive-health supplement term, says New Nutrition Business, with over 80% of surveyed consumers across the markets saying they recognize the term and with 30%-50% of surveyed consumers claiming to use probiotic supplements, there is, nevertheless, a great deal of variation within the probiotic category that can make things a bit hard to understand, including variations in probiotic strains, dosages, and formats.
And the probiotic industry only continues to evolve, with options for consumers expanding further. Continued research in the area of digestive health will both improve our understanding of probiotic strains and also change how products are formulated. For instance, while supplementing with probiotic strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria has been rather ubiquitous over the years, more supplements and functional foods are beginning to incorporate spore-forming bacteria such as Bacillus coagulans, which may improve not only the types of products on the market-since spore-formers can often be used differently in manufacture-but also improve the diversity of the microbiome.
Kiran Krishnan, chief scientific officer of practitioner-positioned brand Microbiome Labs, talks about the microbiome. “Everyone has a different microbiome, but there are certain universal features within the microbiome that seem to hold true across the board: 1) That diversity is important, and 2) That there are certain keystone strains that hold up the microbiome and provide significant benefit and protection against chronic illness to the host.” When Krishnan talks about diversity, he’s referring to not only the large number of different bacteria, but also the uniformity, or balance, in numbers across the microbiome.
Keystone strains such as Akkermansia…