On 1 March, the first postbiotic bread went on sale in the UK, courtesy of Spanish food tech startup MIM Habits (MIM is short for "Microbiome Immunity"). Available online, the organic range consists of four sourdough loaves, each targeting a different area of health: stress, immunity, bowel transit, and hypertension.
All four varieties contain the MIM COMPLEX formula: a patented postbiotic complex that is created through the synthesis of 10 different microorganisms.
“This complex helps regulate the gut microbiota and when it is in balance can more easily absorb the nutrients and help improve the body’s defences,” explained MIM Habits CEO Xavi Cortadellas.
A market in its infancy
Although postbiotics are often billed as being the next big thing in gut health, MIM is one of a very limited number of postbiotic products currently available on the market. Nevertheless, Cortadellas was confident consumers were ready for the next generation of biotics.
“Postbiotics are the evolution of probiotics, and the market is already aware of their benefits and importance for a healthy gut microbiota and their role in overall health,” he said.
Cortadellas said the company was “delighted with the development of the brand” since its launch in Spain in June 2022.
“Our customer base is growing week after week, but what we are most proud of is the feedback subscribers give us on performance and taste,” Cortadellas said.
MIM recommends consuming two slices of bread a day for 12 weeks in order to see the benefits. Building a base of subscribers around this advice has been key to the company’s success to date.
Too futuristic for consumers to grasp?
But has the average consumer really made the connection between probiotics and postbiotics?
It seems unlikely given that consumers were only just getting to grips with probiotics, according to Meg Eade, senior development technologist at RSSL, a provider of scientific analysis, consultancy, product development, and training.
“Prebiotics are becoming more understood, and the regular consumer has a pretty good handle on what they are. However, I think postbiotics are still really early stage. We are only really seeing them in supplements and a couple of food products,” she said.
Eade continued: “The definition determined recently by [the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics] ISAPP will certainly help to clear up some of the confusion the industry has over postbiotics, but for most consumers I think it is still a little bit into the future.”
It may be early days, but Eade was convinced of the potential for probiotics.
“Considering the traction that gut health as a trend is getting and the increase in popularity and focus on probiotics and prebiotics, I don’t doubt that postbiotics could also be a part of this trend, but for sure it will depend on consumer understanding and acceptance,” she said.
Supplements ‘still make most sense’ for postbiotics
Asked which categories offered the most potential for postbiotics, Eade replied: “Right now from my perspective, supplements still make the most sense for consumers in this space and are certainly where we are seeing the bulk of this innovation.”
After supplements, she predicted that postbiotics might move into powdered beverages, as these were simplest from both a development perspective and a consumer acceptance perspective, followed by RTD beverages.
“I think it will be a little longer before they are incorporated into other products, but then I think bakery and snacks would be most appropriate,” she added.
Metabolites and microorganisms
As to what ingredients are commercially available for adding postbiotics to food and nutrition applications, Eade said: “The introduction of postbiotics in food products is an interesting one as they go by so many different names.”
Some postbiotic ingredients include heat-killed microorganisms, which are being used as an ingredient in functional beverages in South Korea and Japan.
In addition, she said that butyrate, a short chain fatty acid produced by gut bacteria, was being used in some supplements sold as postbiotic.
“However, crucially, ISAPP does not classify this as a postbiotic as it is a purified metabolite with no microbial cells or components,” she added.
As the effects of postbiotics are yet to be proven, no health claims can be made – a factor that could be a potential barrier to the growth of the market.
However, Eade suggested that manufacturers may want to use postbiotics in combination with other gut health ingredients for which claims can be made – such as prebiotic fibres – and introduce postbiotics as an added benefit.
On the plus side, Eade said that in terms of formulating products, postbiotics offered an advantage over live probiotics, as they were stable and often dried.
“This means they can be incorporated into products that are processed and heat treated without some of the limitations of probiotic stability. It also means you are likely to be able to get a longer shelf life for both the ingredient and the product without losing its efficacy,” she explained.
Dosages remained a “grey area” that will only become clear as the body of supporting science grows, according to Eade.
“Until further studies are carried out to signify the effectiveness of specific postbiotics and therefore indicate an appropriate dosage, it is difficult to know what sort of effect these might have on products – whether that’s from a taste or process perspective.”
She concluded: “The main consideration here is getting consumer buy-in and formulating a product that appeals to a health-conscious consumer.”