Dannon leads industry-funded microbiome research charge amid nutrition trends
- Dannon recently announced two new commitments to further research into the microbiome as part of the company's participation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) National Microbiome Initiative.
- Dannon is offering the American Gastroenterological Association a new Gut Microbiome in Health Award, a $20,000 educational grant for a researcher that has made significant contributions in this area of research, as part of the AGA Research Foundation research awards program.
- Dannon is also doubling its investment in fellowship opportunities for researchers in the realm of gut microbiome and probiotics from $25,000 to $50,000 per year to support two Gut Microbiome, Yogurt and Probiotics Dannon Fellowship Grants. The pre-existing grant, launched in 2012, focused on probiotics, while the new grants expand that scope to include the microbiome.
Other companies have taken an interest in microbiome research and product development, including Ingredion, which identified the microbiome as a functional food trend. The microbiome is "gaining a lot of traction" but still in its "early stages," with unknowns such as whether this will be a personalized or mass nutrition trend, company executives told Food Dive earlier this year.
Before probiotics become as mainstream as protein, manufacturers could jump on the trend early and develop products that promote gut health. Or, because this nutrition trend is still relatively new, manufacturers could also partner with research organizations, as Dannon has, to support external research that could influence internal product development in the future.
Unlocking the secrets of the microbiome could also fuel the growth of medical foods, in which Nestle and Hormel already play a role. Manufacturers can use findings from microbiome research to engineer food products that specifically improve gut health and bacterial composition.
WhiteWave Foods' plant-based food and beverage brand Silk made a similar play as Dannon. Last week, it announced a year-long sponsored research initiative with the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHGE) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to provide support for plant-based food research and uncover consumer perceptions of plant-based foods and beverages.
But Silk and Dannon still run the risk of the research they support not receiving the same consideration as other initiatives because it is industry-funded. The Coca-Cola and Global Energy Balance Network obesity research debacle that erupted late last year was one of the most recent examples of how industry-funded research can backfire. However, industry-funded studies do still have their place in nutrition research, according to one side of an industry funding debate published in BMJ earlier this year.