Delivering Gut Health Through Foods And Beverages

by | Jan 9, 2023

Concerns about health and wellness aren’t new, but people are moving beyond cleanse diets and HIIT programs to develop more comprehensive perspectives about their well-being. Wellness does remain at the forefront of priorities worldwide. McKinsey recently reported that 80% of people across 6 countries cite wellness as important, with more than 4 in 10 ranking it as a top priority. Accenture’s 2022 survey of 11,000 consumers across 16 countries reveals 80% plan to increase spending on health and fitness in 2023. And for health-conscious people, wellness extends beyond diet and exercise into many facets of holistic health.

We’ve seen gut health become a focus in popular and scientific media. Do a quick search about gut health, and you’ll receive almost 1 billion results. You’ll find many straightforward recommendations about foods for a healthy gut, like ‘more whole grains.’ You’ll also see more in-depth and technical resources such as an examination of essential microbes like adlercreutzia equolifasciensa, which produces an antioxidant during soy consumption.

Innova identified “Gut Glory” as one of their Top Trends for 2022, likely as a direct response to increasing access to information and awareness among people of the beneficial effects of having a well-regulated and balanced microbiome. A healthy microbiome impacts overall health, including sleep support, immunity, and mental health, and 2 in 3 consumers indicate gut health is a key driver to achieving holistic well-being.

While many consumers reach for supplements to support gut health (2017-2022 CAGR +28%- Innova), foods and beverages have much to offer, and people are taking note.

Standout Statistics:

  • More than 1 in 5 consumers have recently bought food or beverage with specific digestive/gut health benefits (Innova).
  • 57% of US adults try to eat foods that encourage a healthy gut/microbiome (Mintel).

What Ingredients Indicate ‘Gut Health’ To People?

Knowledge and understanding of gut health ingredients, such as the different biotics, is expanding. People readily associate pre-, pro-, and postbiotics with gut health, according to Innova’s 2022 Health and Nutrition survey. Fiber was the most coveted ingredient, followed by probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. Innova notes that the hierarchy of interest is likely due to prominence and history in the market.

Standout Statistics:

People answered “very interested + extremely interested” in the following functional ingredients in food and beverages (Innova, Global, 2022):

  • Fiber: 53%
  • Probiotics: 43%
  • Prebiotics: 37%
  • Postbiotics 28%

Among the biotics, probiotics are almost universally understood. Research from MaCorr Research Solutions in 2010 showed nearly 3 of 4 people correctly associated probiotics with “maintaining the natural balance of organisms in the intestines. But only 10% correctly identified prebiotics as “used to feed healthy bacteria.” In the intervening 12 years since the study, awareness of prebiotics and their function has multiplied. An online search about prebiotics today generates almost 25 million citations, with many explaining how pre-and-probiotics work together, with probiotics delivering good gut bacteria and prebiotics promoting their growth.

Postbiotics are relatively new in the US market. A Harris poll from 2021 revealed significant educational opportunities for producers. More than 4 in 10 Americans aren’t sure how postbiotics offer support, and 80% believe postbiotics are ‘the same’ as pre-and-probiotics. Only 28% correctly connected postbiotics and immunity and linked poor immune health and unhealthy guts. About the same number of people mistakenly believe a healthy gut can stimulate weight loss.

Roughly 2 in 10 Americans know that they can get postbiotics through beverages and foods for a healthy gut, like kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and sauerkraut. Few understand that postbiotics are the chemicals released from gut bacteria (probiotics) feeding on prebiotics.

Brands focused on developing foods for a healthy gut have the opportunity to educate shoppers on the benefits of different ingredients. Beyond the well-known fiber and biotics offerings, Innova reports that developers are also examining the potential of components such as botanicals and mushrooms to address gut health concerns.

Which Categories Are Innovating In Gut Health?

Growth in beverages and foods for a healthy gut over the past few years is notable. Innova reports that from H2 2017 to H1 2022, launches with pre- and probiotic ingredients are up 10% and 4%, respectively.

According to data from Mintel, the dairy categories one would expect to formulate most often with pre-, pro-, or postbiotics are actively innovating – spoonable and drinkable dairy yogurt. These two categories make up 66% of North American product introductions with pre-, pro-, or postbiotics from Q4 2018 – Q3 2022, despite representing only 16% of total launches.

Van Leeuwen Vegan Oat Banana Bread Pudding frozen dessert

The dairy categories (particularly spoonable and drinkable yogurt) have historical associations with digestive/gut health due to the use of live cultures of beneficial bacteria in the production process. Formulators who want new products to stand out on store shelves might explore the addition of other biotics to natural probiotic live cultures.

Like their traditional dairy-based counterparts, some plant-based yogurts and milk products incorporate pre-, pro-, and postbiotics. Despite being smaller than dairy options, these categories punch above their weight when they include these functional ingredients. Plant-based yogurts and milk contributed 10% of launches over the last 4 years to their respective categories but accounted for 1 in 4 introductions with pre-, pro-, or postbiotic ingredients.

Innovation extends beyond traditional categories, and many are picking up momentum quickly. Innova reports that prebiotic and probiotic ingredients are growing fastest in carbonates, hot cereal, and baby snacks.

What Are Flavor Challenges Associated With Formulating Beverages And Foods For A Healthy Gut?

Functional ingredients have much to offer developers and consumers, but they often carry unwanted off-notes. When off-notes are present, flavor solutions or technology can help mask or balance the taste. Foods and beverages that leverage gut-related ingredients face similar challenges.

In the case of pre-, pro-, and postbiotics, off-notes can present in several ways, such as grassy, metallic, bitter, or sulfur-like tastes. Formulators may choose to complement or heighten these off-notes as a way to use taste to indicate functional benefits exist. The flavor system choice ties closely to brand preference. Partnering with a flavor company can uncover the solutions you need to ensure delicious taste doesn’t become a sacrifice.

What Are The Flavor Trends In Foods And Beverages With Gut Claims?

Digestive health-related claims are increasingly occurring across food and beverage innovation in North America, with 16% more categories mentioning gut health in 2022. Total launches with digestive claims are up +24%, reflecting brands’ response to demand and giving people hundreds of new products on store shelves that support gut health. Claims likely contribute to product appeal, but the flavor gets the product into the shopping cart. Within each category, trending flavors range from classic (like a chocolate snack bar) to more novel (like mango yogurt).

Kombucha Spoonable Yogurt Drinkable Yogurt Snack/Cereal/Energy Bars Cold Cereals
Ginger Vanilla Strawberry Chocolate Cinnamon
Ginger & Lemon Strawberry Banana & Strawberry Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cocoa
Lemon & Lime Peach Mango Berry Honey & Raisin
Strawberry Blueberry Berry Blueberry & Lemon Peanut Butter
Lemon & Raspberry Lemon Blueberry Apple & Cinnamon Apple & Cinnamon

Mintel. Fastest Growing Flavors (From 2020-2022) in Top Food and Beverage Categories with Digestion-Related Claims and Ingredients (Pro-, Pre-, Post-Biotics, Digestion Claims).

What’s Your Next Flavorful Innovation?

If you’re looking for support as you navigate the world of gut health, tap into FlavorSum’s robust applications expertise by partnering with us on your next project! Collaborating with our flavor experts can help you navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. Connect with our team to learn more!