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NUTRITION

Prebiotics and probiotics products – scenario 2020
Monday, 06 January, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Julian Mellentin
Digestive wellness is a mainstream consumer interest, all around the world and has become the number one growth trend for industry. That’s because, according to the World Health Organization, about the third of us will suffer from a digestive disorder at some time, ranging from simple discomfort to medical conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition which affects about 20% of people.

‘Feeling better inside’ is one of the most powerful consumer motivations and has been a driver of some of the most successful brands. Providing a digestive product that enables people to ‘feel the benefit’ is the biggest marketing advantage you can have – and the surest way to keep people coming back, again and again. The success of the world’s two biggest probiotic dairy brands, Danone Activia and Yakult, which between them have sales of over $7 billion on four continents, is a testament to the marketing power of ‘feel the benefit.’

Until recently, consumers’ choices were dominated by probiotic dairy, high-fibre cereal products or laxative supplements sold in drug stores. But because technology has opened the way for new product development, there has been a massive explosion in type of products that consumers can choose if they want to get a digestive wellness benefit.

Fibre is an ingredient that everyone knows they should have more of – and it’s easy for people to understand. Messages about “source of” or “high in” fibre have become so common on product labels that they have ceased to be a point of difference. These fibres are usually the insoluble bulking fibres, such as oat or soy.

The growth in the market, however, belongs to soluble fibres such as inulin – a type of soluble fibre found in many fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, onions, wheat and chicory root. It is made up of chains of fructose molecules that are linked together in a way that cannot be digested by the small intestine. Instead, it travels to the lower gut, where it functions as a powerful prebiotic.

Prebiotics have an excellent scientific basis – enough to secure a very rare health claim approval from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) – and they feed the gut microbiome, something which more and more people understand is key to digestive health.

Inulin’s additional advantage is that it is also a natural sugar replacer, used in an ever-growing number of products, and its presence means that companies can also flag up the enhanced fibre content on the label. The number of products launched that feature inulin doubled between 2012 and 2019.

Inulin has a very rare advantage in that it can offer both a digestive wellness benefit and a low sugar promise, so connecting to two of the biggest consumer growth trends.

Sales of breakfast cereals have suffered in recent years from the lower sugar trend, but many brands are discovering that they can gain sales in a challenging market by using inulin. Troo Granola, for example, uses inulin syrup in its products because it serves both as a prebiotic fibre and a sweetener, giving a more appealing taste to consumers while keeping the sugar low.

While prebiotics are just getting better-known, probiotics are already well-established for digestive wellness. For probiotics the long-term growth opportunity is the emerging understanding of the microbiome’s role in many aspects of health.

Science is signposting many possible benefits – skin, heart and brain health, and even for weight management. The science supporting new claims for probiotics is still in its infancy, meaning that as it becomes more robust that will support the emergence of more claims.

Key to success
1.    Choosing the right product format – the one that the consumer sees as a credible carrier for probiotics and for the benefit claimed.
2.    Creating an easy-to-understand marketing message.

When probiotics first came to market for gut health the marketing messages were easy for people to understand and can be summarised as there are bacteria in the gut, some are good and some are bad, but you can influence the balance through what you eat.

Explaining how probiotics beneficially support weight management will be a more complicated story to tell. Without a simple logic, the need for consumer education is significant. Hence the speed with which new probiotic benefits and categories emerge will depend to a large extent on how much marketing investment is made.

Thanks to the existing understanding of health-active consumers that probiotics can aid digestive health, this could be a useful starting point for them to learn about and embrace wider benefits. And thanks to greater attention in social and online media to the microbiome, the most health-active consumers are already aware of the term and are already open to the idea of how the microbiome affects them. Perhaps starting by targeting those consumers who are already ‘probiotic aware’ will be the starting point for a strategy that communicates new benefits.

A new world of opportunity is opening up for probiotics – and ambitious companies must start soon if they want to influence the social media discussion and become a successful player in this new world.

(The author is founder of New Nutrition Business, a consulting company specialised in the business of food, nutrition and health. He can be contacted at julian.mellentin@new-nutrition.com)
 
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