In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers are more in tune with their health and are paying greater attention to their physical and emotional needs than ever before. Around two-thirds (63%) of global consumers are currently looking to improve their health, despite having no problems or complaints, FMCG Gurus data shows.
This trend is set to continue over the next year as over half of consumers globally seek solutions to various health and wellness concerns, including sleep health (54%), immunity (53%), mental wellbeing and mood (51%), and digestive health (49%).
“Two of the top four [survey] answers are immunity and digestive health, showing that these are key issues for consumers and are two issues they often feel are interlinked,” Mike Hughes, head of research and insights at FMCG Gurus, said during a recent Vitafoods Insights webinar that explored trends and opportunities in digestive and immune health.
Covid-19, conflict, and cost among key drivers of poor digestive health
Digestive health problems – notably bloating, stomach aches, and constipation – are relatively common issues across global populations. Potential causes of such problems, primarily in developed nations, include the rising average age of populations, poor lifestyle choices, and emotional distress.
Diet and lifestyle choices such as overindulgence, poorly structured eating habits, and problems digesting certain foods have been shown to increase the prevalence of digestive health issues. Consumers are aware that exposure to various sociopolitical factors, such as the pandemic and recent conflicts in places such as Ukraine and Israel, can indirectly harm digestive and immune health by increasing rates of comfort eating, usually centred around indulgent foods rich in salt, sugar, and fat.
“This focus on escapism and turning to [food] products to help alleviate stress and the impact of rising prices is something that is going to significantly impact the digestive health market over the next 12 months and beyond,” Hughes said.
Weight gain, which may also be a driver of negative digestive health impacts, is of increasing concern for consumers, with close to four in ten (39%) claiming to be overweight and a similar proportion (36%) saying that they have gained weight in the past year, according to FMCG Gurus.
The cost-of-living crisis that much of the world has been exposed to in recent years is also a cause of concern, with over one in five (22%) global consumers worried about how rising costs will impact gut health, FMCG Gurus data shows. With 43% having to make changes to their health and wellness routines to account for increased costs, brands must focus on emphasising the value and efficacy of products in improving digestive health.
“Brands must leverage perceptions of efficacy, and this is particularly true post-pandemic, as consumers move away from the ethos of health at all costs to place greater emphasis on whether or not health and wellness products are genuinely essential or not,” Hughes said.
Consumers seek out holistic health solutions
Consumers are growing increasingly aware of the importance of the digestive system in ensuring good holistic health. Three-quarters of respondents to a recent FMCG Gurus survey claimed to be aware of the relationship between digestive and overall health, representing a 20% rise since 2019 before the pandemic began.
In addition to having regular bowel movements (47%) and being able to digest food (42%), over a quarter (27%) of consumers also associate good digestive health with cognitive wellbeing and levels of energy and activity, according to FMCG Gurus.
“It is important to highlight that consumers also make a direct link between digestive health and immunity,” Hughes said.
Acknowledging the link between emotional wellness, digestive health, and immunity, consumers are seeking out day-to-day solutions to support holistic health, rather than turning to specialists to tackle individual issues in the long term.
Comfort eating is an example of how emotional wellness can impact digestive health and immunity by having a direct impact on the gut and indirectly increasing the vulnerability to disease and illness via low moods and tiredness, Hughes explained.
“This holistic vision that consumers have when it comes to health is because they recognise that digestive health and immunity are all very interlinked,” he said.
Develop probiotic products that are tasty, convenient, and effective
To address growing concerns about digestive health, many consumers (55%) are opting for products containing probiotics and cultures, according to FMCG Gurus. Among these, products that offer multiple health benefits and use dairy-based ingredients are seeing the most success.
“There's an opportunity here to educate consumers about the wider benefits of probiotics beyond addressing the gut, such as the link with emotional wellness and skin health,” said Hughes.
As he pointed out, in addition to efficacy, convenience, taste, and the ability to incorporate digestive health products into daily routines are also key.
Interest in the gut microbiome offers new opportunities for brands
Increased awareness and understanding of the importance of the gut microbiome in supporting digestive and holistic health is likely to open up new opportunities for the digestive wellness market.
As of 2022, 15% of global consumers were familiar with the gut microbiome, with this cohort expected to increase over the next decade as more information about the link between digestive health and overall wellbeing becomes available, according to FMCG Gurus.
Yet while knowledge and exposure to the wider field of digestive health builds, brands may have to deal with some “early cynicism” from consumers who may question the validity of claims relating to the gut microbiome, Hughes said. To overcome these challenges, brands must focus on ensuring claims are transparent and verifiable.