Gut health business is booming: What's next for this unstoppable health trend?

By Donna Eastlake

- Last updated on GMT

Gut health business is booming: What's next for this unstoppable health trend? GettyImages/Sean Anthony Eddy
Gut health business is booming: What's next for this unstoppable health trend? GettyImages/Sean Anthony Eddy

Related tags Gut health microbiome Prebiotic Probiotic

The gut health trend is one of the single biggest changes to hit the food and drinks industry in recent decades. So what are gut-loving consumers buying and what gut-friendly products will we see next?

The gut-health industry is on the up and up with terms such as probiotics, good bacteria and the microbiome, all now part of the common vernacular. So why has this trend become so popular and what’s next for this unstoppable force of gut-friendly nature.

What is the gut microbiome?

Each of us has trillions of microbes or bacteria living in our gut. These are collectively referred to as the gut microbiome. The two most common species of helpful bacteria found in our gut microbiome are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. Maintaining a healthy balance between the helpful (good) bacteria and the unhelpful (bad) bacteria is fundamental in supporting a healthy digestive system, with the gut now understood to be central to health, containing more than 70% of our immune system.

The rise and rise of the gut-health trend?

The discovery of gut microflora appears to date back to the 1840s, with the terms microbiota and microbiome first appearing in scientific literature in 1927 and 1949 respectively. But it is not until many years later that the concept of the microbiome entered into the wider public consciousness. In fact it’s really only the last decade that has seen understanding and interest surrounding the importance of the gut microbiome grow.

Prior to the recent gut health revolution, the gut was traditionally a subject discussed by dieticians and doctors, rarely thought of by most consumers, unless they experienced symptoms such as bloating, constipation or digestive issues. But that all changed seemingly overnight when people became aware of the power of the gut microbiome taking gut health from the sidelines into centre stage.

And with that increased understanding and interest has come the inevitable increased demand for gut-friendly products with figures from market research firm Mintel showing that nearly three in five US adults try to eat foods that encourage a healthy gut microbiome. So why is this trend growing so fast?

Gut Health 3 - GettyImages-minoandriani
Gut health products including kefir are proving hugely popular with consumers. GettyImages/minoandriani

Good gut health means good overall health

A healthy diet, which supports a healthy gut, is not the only contributing factor to a healthy lifestyle but it’s certainly a powerful place to start.

Recent studies have linked gut health to a multitude of health benefits, including reducing the risk of colorectal cancer​ and chronic diseases in women​, and the benefits don’t end there as gut health has now been linked to a broad range of symptoms, including energy levels, mood, skin health, hair health and more. And New technology is enabling an advanced understanding of the gut microbiome and its influence in overall health.

The relatively recent discovery of the gut-brain axis​ has shown the importance of good gut health on good brain health. As a result, many consumers are looking to the foods they eat to not just support their physical health but their mental health too.

“Mental health conditions like anxiety are often linked with chronic gut conditions like IBS. Recent research suggests that your gut bacteria could affect symptoms of anxiety and depression,” explains Olivia Cassano of gut-health brand, Zoe. “Scientists have identified specific gut microbes that may be connected with mental health conditions. One study found that people with depression had fewer of two types of bacteria called Dialister and Coprococcus in their guts.”

This is supported by Rachel Yarcony, co-founder and CEO of smart food company myAir, who recently told FoodNavigator​ that the gut-brain axis is a “complex, bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This connection involves direct and indirect pathways that include the nervous, immune, and hormonal pathways, linking our gut health to our mood and mental health.”

Gut health 2 - GettyImages-Premyuda Yospim
Gut health products including kombucha are proving hugely popular with consumers. GettyImages/Premyuda Yospim

What are consumers buying to support gut health?

The success of the gut health trend has in part been fuelled by social media, with prebiotics and probiotics getting a lot of attention from health food and fitness influencers. Platforms including Instagram and TikTok have experienced a surge in content related to DIY fermentation of foods and drinks such as sourdough​, sauerkraut​, kombucha​ and kefir​. In fact the hashtag #GutTok has now had more than one billion, yes billion, views on TikTok.

Social Media platforms have also reported the emergence of challenges such as the "30 Days of Gut-Friendly Eating" challenge, to improve gut health as awareness grows. These challenges encourage individuals to adopt gut-friendly habits in their diet and share their experiences with others in the community.

According to Brightfield Group’s Wellness Revolution report, kombucha is particularly popular among those seeking gut health, with 13% purchasing the increasingly popular fermented drink.

The report also found that turmeric​ has gained popularity due to its anti-inflammatory properties, and 30% of consumers in need of digestive health turning to vitamin B 12​ due to its involvement in red blood cell formation, nerve function, energy metabolism, maintenance of the gut lining and support for a healthy gut microbiome. B 12 also plays a crucial role in ensuring proper oxygen supply, optimal nerve communication, efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients, and the integrity of the gut barrier.

Adaptogenic herbs ​such as elderberry and ashwagandha, are also proving increasingly popular for their potential to combat stress, which is believed to impact gut health.

Ingredients naturally rich in prebiotics include sea moss​, garlic​, onions​, chickpeas​, beans​, artichokes​ and leeks​, which all contain special fibres that good gut bacteria feed on.

Legumes such as beans and pulses seem to be having a bit of a moment, proving very popular with consumers for their taste, health benefits​ and environmentally-friendly credentials.

“Plant-based proteins, particularly legumes, are rich in resistant starch and both soluble and insoluble fibre, supporting a healthy gut microbiome. This can improve nutrient absorption and overall digestive health, support a better mood, and reduce the risk of certain diseases, including bowel cancer,” Toni Gam of the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council told FoodNavigator.

Gut Health 4 - GettyImages-alvarez
Gut health products including sourdough are proving hugely popular with consumers. GettyImages/alvarez

What’s next for the gut-health industry?

Consumer interest in gut health has not gone unnoticed by food and drinks manufacturers leading to the launch of a whole range of new gut-friendly brands and products. From gut-friendly flapjacks​ to gut gummies, gut-friendly products are popping up all over the place as food and drinks manufacturers seek ways to get involved in the growing gut-health trend.

Ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs recently entered the gut health market with the launch of a range of Cultured Crème products which are said to blur the lines between yoghurt and ice cream. Although many yoghurt brands have moved to the frozen aisle, few ice cream brands have launched in the yoghurt category and according to Mintel’s Purchase Intelligence measure, 49% of consumers would buy it. This move will likely start a trend for other food and drinks manufacturers to transform their existing products into new gut-friendly products for existing customers and in an effort to entice new customers. 

The link between the gut microbiome and overall health is being increasingly recognised by science and consumers, with Mintel’s GNPD data showing that 22% of global food and drinks health information, which included a digestive health claim, also had an immune health claim. There is an opportunity for brands to expand on this with further research and development as it seems this trend is just getting started.

Why is the gut health trend here to stay? We explore this in Part 1 of our feature on gut health, available here​.

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