When looking at the consumer influence affecting today’s health and nutrition market from the product development stage and beyond, there are a number of key trends emerging that could point the way forward for brands in the nutrition and wellness sectors.
The global rise in gut health awareness has been nothing short of meteoric – and shows no sign of slowing down. One of the simplest ways to see this first-hand is through Google Trend data, which shows trend patterns of specific terms that consumers are searching for on the internet.
Data shows that global searches for ‘gut health’ grew slowly but consistently for several years, before beginning to gather pace in 2015 and accelerating to the present day. In fact, 2022 has so far seen the highest volume of search traffic since trend records began, which shows that an engaged health audience is proactively seeking information about the gut and digestive health – providing real impetus for health and nutrition formulators to explore the gut health category.
More consumers are connecting the dots between a well-supported gut microbiome and the benefits to their wellness. Market projections reflect this growing awareness. Intelligence agency Future Market Insights predicts that the digestive health supplement market will enjoy a robust compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% until 2032, representing an enormous global value of $29.6Bn.
The second trend to note is that consumers are looking for products in the health and wellness space, such as functional foods and supplements that have a natural based background. This can entail anything from responsibly sourced packaging to ingredients derived from natural sources. It’s a very similar shift to that seen in the food and drink sector, where shoppers are looking for products with ingredients that reduce synthetic additives in favour of those that are naturally oriented.
Typically for functional food brands and supplement manufacturers, this often means choosing ingredients and components that are based on chemicals and compounds. Ingredients that are synthetically manufactured could be considered less ‘natural’ due to the science and engineering that goes into their development and manufacture, but depending on origin, raw material source and manufacturing practices, certain products can be considered closer to nature than others.
So, how does this thinking influence the market for probiotics and prebiotics, two of the fastest-growing categories in the sector?
Probiotics are a class of live ‘good bacteria’ that inhabit the gut microbiome, including genus such as Lactobacilliand Bifidobacteria. These bacteria are usually already present in the human gut microbiome, therefore probiotics offer a way to potentially increase the presence an individual has by simply adding more of them to the gut through diet, although it is not always this simple.
While much of the research surrounding probiotics is still new, the advantages of supporting beneficial bacteria are well understood. The challenge for consumers and brands alike, however, is that to reach the gut microbiome, the bacteria must at least reach the small intestine after ingestion, which requires it to travel through a hostile acidic gastric environment. Some types of bacteria can withstand this, but others can become diminished.
Increasing in awareness are prebiotics, which are often seen as a counterpart to probiotics. Rather than introducing additional bacteria into the gut microbiome from outside, prebiotics are selectively fermented by the ‘good bacteria’ and use it for fuel and nourishment.
Notably, some prebiotic fibre components are found naturally in some foods, such as Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, onions and shallots, as well as certain oats and wheats. These foods would have to be eaten in large quantities to gain a prebiotic benefit to gut health, and so many people choose to augment their diets with a prebiotic supplement.
The global prebiotic market is experiencing significant growth, which indicates that consumers around the world are tuning into the benefits of supporting beneficial gut bacteria in this way. Taking both functional foods and dedicated supplements into account, research intelligence agency Grand View Research projects an extremely strong CAGR of 14.9% to 2030 with a combined market value of $21.2Bn.
As consumers look for more naturally oriented ways to support health and wellbeing, the way forward for brands hoping to capture consumer imagination could lie with prebiotic ingredients.
While it’s difficult to categorise any science-led outside intervention as natural, taking a bacteria-first approach to gut health is one way to support and nourish the body’s existing resources. Prebiotic fibre could be one of the most direct routes to achieving this, and its feasibility to be added to a wide range of applications, from functional foods to supplements, may also be one of the more convenient approaches.
In essence, the consumer is looking for a new way of marrying science and technology to health and wellbeing by supplementing and supporting the body’s natural functions, as opposed to approaches that utilise synthetically created solutions to improve individual components.
Modulating the gut microbiome may be a fascinating area of exploration for consumers moving forwards, which makes this an ideal time for brands in the health and nutrition categories to begin exploring how best to incorporate these elements into their new product developments.