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In 2022, gut health is no longer just about digestion

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Gut health has long been interesting to consumers, with 91% of US consumers, for example, agreeing that maintaining their digestive health is important, and 23% agreeing they have researched ways to improve their gut health.

Gut health issues are also commonplace, with 78% of US consumers agreeing they experienced a gastrointestinal or digestive concern in the past 12 months.  Furthermore, consumers look to their diet to support their digestive health, with 41% of Danish, 39% of German, and 39% of French consumers agreeing that they would like their diet to support digestive/gut health.  In addition to food and drink that supports digestive health, 36% of Polish consumers, and 33% of Spanish consumers who have taken vitamins, minerals or supplements in the last six months took them to support their digestive health.

In future, the gut will be linked to many different strands of health
Recently, gut microbiome science has advanced, with PubMed citations for the word “gut microbiome” in scientific research increasing significantly over recent years. Scientific research has identified the gut microbiome's influence on various strands of health including brain health, weight and obesity, diabetes, and skin conditions like eczema, to name a few.  Attention to the gut microbiome (the numerous microbes that reside in our gut), can create opportunities for gut health solutions that are more holistic, targeting areas of health that reach beyond the immediate digestive health concerns that plague consumers, such as heartburn, stomach cramps or pain, and bloating.

The link between the gut and immune health is perhaps the best known example of how the gut is linked to other strands of health, and solutions such as probiotic dairy drinks have long payed in this space.

In future, we may see opportunities for a wider range of health claims to be linked to the gut, through the microbiome, in a similar way to the established gut-immune system benefiting probiotic drinks, although, producers in regions like Europe will face regulatory challenges regarding the absence of approved health claims linked to the gut microbiome. However, in some regions, such as the US, the term ‘gut microbiome’ may start to become a more regular feature in consumers’ lexicon, as 57% of US consumers agree that they try to eat foods that encourage a healthy microbiome.

In the US, many consumers already show some understanding of the wide-reaching impact that the gut has on different strands of health – beyond digestion and other more ‘immediate’ aspects of gut health.  While 40% of US consumers (who agree that maintaining gut health is important to them) agree they maintain their gut health to improve the strength of their immune system, approximately one third agree they maintain their gut health to improve their mood, to improve sleep, and to support weight management. Improving skin appearance, and promoting cognitive function are also linked to the gut by US consumers, with 18% and 16%, of US consumers, respectively, (who agree that maintaining gut health is important to them) agreeing they maintain their gut health for these purposes.

Can fibre become the next ‘high protein’ or ‘plant protein’ trend?
Renewed attention to the gut, due to advances in gut microbiome science, holds potential to create opportunities for gut-friendly ingredients such as fibres, probiotics, and other ingredients that consumers may link to the gut, such as botanicals - mint or ginger have a traditional association with the gut, for example. 2022 could be fibre’s moment to shine, where fibre-rich ingredients can start to grow in less expected categories, targeting a broader range of consumers, beyond those seeking fibre supplements for the management of ‘immediate’ gut health issues. Several innovative brands have launched fibre-focused ranges with a trendier and more youthful image, such as Olipop (carbonated soft drink range with added fibre) and Eat Troo, whose microbiome ‘friendly’ ‘honey’ alternatives and breakfast cereals use inulin for gut health.

However, producers will need to work hard to engage younger consumers with fibre (in some countries), because, hitherto, ‘high fibre content’ is more interesting to senior consumers, than younger consumers. In France, for example, 13% of consumers age 16-34 agree high fibre content is important to them when shopping for food and drink, compared to 19% of consumers age 55+.

 

Ingredients to watch in the gut health space
In addition to established gut-supporting ingredients like fibres or probiotics; postbitics and bacteriophage ingredients hold potential to emerge in the gut health space.

Postbiotics are the latest ‘biotic’ in the gut health world.  In 2021, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) proposed a definition for postbiotics; "a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host”. Postbiotics hold particular potential to step in for probiotics in products formats that are challenging for probiotics, such as powdered and ambient stable dairy drinks.

Phage therapy is the use of bacteriophage viruses to modulate the gut microbiome, with the aim of treating bacterial infection, for example. Bacteriophage are selective in which bacteria they target, so they can be used for the selective targeting of 'harmful' bacteria, leaving 'good' bacteria intact.  US-based Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes (recently acquired by ADM) has launched a prebiotic ingredient (PreforPro) for supplements that is based on bacteriophage, and the company claims that "by using phages that target the unwanted bacteria in the gut, PreforPro is able to modulate the gut microbiota and encourage the balance of good bacteria over bad".

 

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