Health and wellness, and immunity, and now top of mind, but did the pandemic create this, or simply accelerate it?
Marischa Nikkels, marketing manager, early life nutrition, at FrieslandCampina Ingredients said wellness was already a key consumer trend pre-pandemic, but now its importance has skyrocketed.
MN: With their lives completely transformed, consumers have found it challenging to maintain a healthy routine of physical and social activity, and their mental wellbeing has worsened in response, leading to poor sleep and unhealthy consumption. Stress and anxiety levels are up around the globe: a recent study found that almost 60% of consumers worldwide say they are interested in health products to reduce their stress levels [i].
For pregnant women, with not only their own health to consider, but that of their unborn baby, these were already the number one pain points before COVID-19 [ii], and naturally this has now become even harder for them to cope with. Mums and mums-to-be are particularly vulnerable to the challenges of the time. Like all consumers, they are looking for high quality supplements and nutritional products to help them feel better, supported by science they can understand and rely on, but safety matters even more to them than to most. This has led to a growing interest in solutions based on the science of the gut-brain axis, and consumers are now more open than ever to the concept of so-called ‘psychobiotics’ that demonstrate an ability to modulate the gut microbiota, which may have diverse potential benefits for health.
How can dairy companies and their ingredient suppliers respond to this changing consumer behavior? What are some of the recent developments that FrieslandCampina Ingredients has been working on?
MN: It’s important for our industry to understand that at a time when there is so little in their lives they can control, consumers aren’t willing to sacrifice on any one of their expectations from a supplement, food or beverage. As such, it’s essential to develop a deep understanding of consumer needs and how they interrelate.
At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, we’re developing exciting new solutions to support pregnant women and mothers in dealing with stress and anxiety. We’re excited by the role the gut-brain axis has to play, and how the composition of the microbiota in the human gut may have an effect on mental wellbeing. And we can help by harnessing the goodness of galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). GOS are indigestible carbohydrates derived from cow’s milk that have been indicated to substantially elevate levels of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium [iii], which has been suggested to reduce stress and anxiety symptoms. More recently, they’ve been shown to improve emotional wellbeing in highly anxious women too [iv].
We’re living in a world where convenience is everything, which means consumers prefer solutions that offer multiple benefits at once, in formats that are easy to consume on-the-go. Many women are now busier than ever, thanks to the pressures of juggling childcare and home-schooling with working from home. When they consume a nutritional solution, increasingly they want an enjoyable experience instead of a set of pills to pop. Our recent consumer research found that pregnant women across the globe are most interested in functional snacks that are tasty, nutritious and convenient [v]. Biotis GOS is our prebiotic solution that responds to this need with user-friendly product applications such as ready-to-drink beverages, fruit pouches, milk powders and supplement gummies.
Consumers are thirsty for knowledge but also cautious about fake news and unsubstantiated claims. Do you see consumers becoming increasingly interested in the science behind the products they eat and drink? If so, are there any scientific developments worth mentioning?
MN: Absolutely, we’re seeing that consumers care a lot about the science behind their product choices. Many will do the research to find out what the ingredients on labels actually do, so they can make their own judgements on nutritional value and relevance to their circumstances. The pandemic has heightened their interest in strengthening immunity, which has led to a deeper understanding of how immune strength relies on overall health and wellbeing, and for many women that interest extends to their growing families. According to recent research, 35% of EU consumers seek out products with health claims that are rooted in science [vi], which all starts in their internet browser.
As consumers put their trust in brands they can rely on, consumer-facing brands in the industry are looking for partners they too can rely on, who can offer well-substantiated, high quality ingredients. At FrieslandCampina Ingredients, we’re committed to sharing good science with our customers, to put them at ease under the consumer spotlight. We recently conducted a ground-breaking study in partnership with the University of Surrey, which highlights the effectiveness of using GOS to improve emotional behavior and well-being in young women. A key finding was that highly anxious participants benefitted the most, in that they showed the greatest measurable improvement [vii].
How do you predict that science around the gut-brain axis will continue to influence consumer needs as it evolves?
MN: We now know that early difficulties with anxiety and stress are strong predictors for life-long mental health problems, which is why we think it’s so important to find ways to help children, young people and mothers to address their emotional health. Research in the psychobiotics arena is growing, but so far, most studies are based on animal research, and only a handful of studies have looked at their effects in humans [viii],[ix],[x]– that’s a gap we intend to bridge.
We’re confident that clinical evidence will continue to reinforce the power and potential of probiotic and prebiotic solutions for a broader range of consumer health needs, expanding beyond the well-established digestive health market and exploring a broader range of cognitive benefits such as improved sleep health. At the same time, we expect consumers to focus their preference on convenient food and beverage applications offering multiple gut health benefits, reflecting how our understanding of health and wellbeing is evolving. Consumers no longer think of health areas like stress, digestion, physical performance and weight-management to be separate needs served by distinct solutions, but instead as interconnected aspects of health that are best addressed with a holistic approach.
FrieslandCampina Ingredients, part of Royal FrieslandCampina N.V., operates worldwide with regional sales offices in the Netherlands, the US, Singapore, China and Brazil. It reported combined sales of €1.7bn in FY19. FrieslandCampina, headquartered in the Netherlands, has locations in 34 countries and employs about 24,000 people.
[ii] FrieslandCampina Ingredients Social Listening Research, May 2020
[iii] Johnstone et al., Anxiolytic effects of a galacto-oligosaccharides prebiotic in healthy female volunteers are associated with reduced negative bias and the gut bacterial composition, 2019 [submitted for publication].
[iv] Work undertaken by Dr Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, University of Surrey, UK. Publication pending
[v] FrieslandCampina Ingredients consumer research China August 2020, FrieslandCampina Ingredients social listening research May 2020, FrieslandCampina Focus group research May 2020.
[vi] Bain Company, Shaping the consumer of the future September 26, 2020.
[vii] Work undertaken by Dr Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, University of Surrey, UK. Publication pending
[viii] Bindels et al, Towards a more comprehensive concept for prebiotics. Nat. Rev. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 12, 303–310 (2015).
[ix] Dinan et al, Psychobiotics: a novel class of psychotropic. Biol. Psychiatry 74, 720–6 (2013).