Gut opportunity: Responding to health-conscious consumers with combined prebiotic and probiotic solutions

By Vicky Davies, global marketing director, performance and active nutrition, FrieslandCampina Ingredients

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Getty Images/nadisja
Pic: Getty Images/nadisja

Related tags: Probiotics, Prebiotics, frieslandcampina ingredients, Frieslandcampina

It’s a well-known truth in the health and nutrition industry that today’s consumers are more health conscious than ever. Increasingly, they’re taking preventative measures to tackle a variety of health issues to improve feelings of overall well-being.

Research by FMCG Gurus shows consumers are actively seeking products to support specific areas of health, even when not suffering specific symptoms. These areas include immune health (67%), digestive health (66%), cognitive health (66%), heart health (69%), and joint/bone health (62%)1​,among others.

At the same time as this shift in consumer mindset, scientific research into the gut microbiota – the collection of bacteria that reside in the human gut – is expanding, and increasingly shining a light on how the gut could be the key to unlocking a variety of health improvements. There’s an opportunity, therefore, for brands to explore the potential of positively influencing the gut microbiota with combined, scientifically backed probiotic and prebiotic products to unlock multiple health benefits and meet the rising consumer need for a more holistic approach to health.

Microbiota moves mainstream

Probiotics have long been recognized as an important functional ingredient for targeting gut microbiota and improving digestive health. However, we’re beginning to understand that a healthy gut doesn’t necessarily only mean a healthy digestive system.

Recent research has linked the composition and activity of our gut microbiota to digestion, weight, immunity, brain health, sleep, and more. And much of this science – such as that of the gut-brain axis – is becoming mainstream knowledge. The result is that consumers are becoming more aware – and actively interested in – how solutions that support gut health may support other areas of their health. In fact, market research shows that consumers are increasingly associating probiotics with benefits in other areas of health, such as: cognitive health (45%), digestive health (70%), heart health (50%), and skin health (35%)2​.

Probiotics have been successfully formulated into dairy products and supplements for many years, and innovative strains are beginning to be used in other formats, but they are also notoriously challenging and sensitive to processing, somewhat hampering their use in other functional products. Successful NPD requires a strong understanding of formulation with probiotics. The manufacturing process can impact probiotics’ physiological effects, in fact, formulations are often ‘overdosed’ to ensure enough probiotics survive processing. Additionally, it’s important to understand what can be added to formulations to enhance their production and effects.

Taking it further with prebiotics

This is where prebiotics come in. Fortifying probiotic solutions with additional prebiotics can help formulators support probiotic viability. Probiotics have been shown to support a healthy microflora, reinforce gut barrier integrity, and help relieve abdominal discomfort3​. And prebiotics offer similar benefits by supporting the production of this good bacteria in the gut. In fact, one recent study showed that prebiotic GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides) can increase levels of probiotic Bifidobacteria​ in the gut of healthy adults, improving overall gut health4​.

Combining probiotic solutions with prebiotics can also help tap into the preference for consumers wanting to improve multiple health areas at once. Prebiotics have been shown to help successfully unlock a multitude of health benefits, making them an optimal solution for enhancing the benefits of probiotics beyond digestive health.

Clinical studies using FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ Biotis GOS, for example, showed that GOS can improve anxiety levels and support overall mental well-being5​. And the research into what diverse, balance and stable gut microbiota could deliver is just getting started – muscle strength, bone health, nutrient uptake, and resilience to circadian disruption, amongst others, are all areas of interest to researchers right now. In essence, combined prebiotic and probiotic solutions could allow formulators to create enhanced solutions which respond to growing interest in improving overall health simultaneously.

And while the science is demonstrating the benefits of prebiotics in supporting the benefits of probiotic function and production, consumers are also beginning to take note – 67% already associate prebiotics with digestive health, but more than a third (38%) now associate them with cognitive health benefits, too6​.

Addressing the format challenge

What’s more, consumers don’t just want products that support overall well-being – they want them in convenient formats that suit their day-to-day lives. Increasingly, shoppers expect to see functional food and drinks products on shelves that are positioned to help them in their health and wellness goals.

They also expect more from their supplement options – such as shots, gummies, and smaller, more convenient pills and capsules. In April 2021, as many as 45% of consumers sought out fortified and functional food and drinks. To top it off, consumers also don’t want to compromise on taste and texture – products must be functional, effective, convenient and​ taste good.

The challenge for manufacturers is formulating products that respond to each of these needs and deliver health benefits, without compromise. Prebiotics can help address formulation challenges associated with the demand for more convenient products. Some are designed specifically to respond to demand for convenient functional solutions.

These innovative prebiotics are acid and heat stable, tasteless, easily applied into an array of applications, including powders, yogurts, drinks, shots, gummies, and bars. They can also be formulated with additional ingredients such as protein for added benefits. But it’s worth knowing not all ingredients are created equal – many prebiotics and probiotics can’t be used in drinks, for example, because they’re not heat or acid-stable and their fibers would break during processing, impacting their efficacy.

Delivering on consumer expectations for taste and efficacy is all about the right mix. Effective partnerships combining formulation know-how with the latest consumer and market expertise is vital to ensure success in launching new products in this area.

1. FMCG Gurus, 2020

2. FMCG Gurus, 2021

3. Basturk et al., 2016; Erdogan et al., 2012; Islek et al., 2014

4. Wilson et al., 2019; Teuri et Korpela, 1998;  Sairanen et al., 2007;

5. Johnstone et al., 2019

6. FMCG Gurus, 2021

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