Nestlé is partnering with the Center for Microbiome Innovation (CMI) at the University of California San Diego to enhance its understanding about how the microbiome affects human health. The Swiss food giant said in a release the goal is to increase the development of nutritional solutions that promote health and well-being.
Nestlé noted it has been studying gut microbiome evolution from birth to aging in both humans and pets for several years. The company defined the microbiome as "the vast community of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on and inside the body." An important part of the microbiome is located in the gut where it is essential to digesting the food people eat, the immune system, and other aspects of health.
This research has led to products designed to help maintain healthy digestion and well-being for different groups, the company added. This includes those containing prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics. The latter are food ingredients or dietary supplements that combine probiotics and prebiotics in a synergistic way.
It makes sense for Nestlé to join forces with the university's Center for Microbiome Innovation since the collaboration could lead to additional innovative products. The company has launched infant formulas that have Human Milk Oligosaccharides, which are a major component of breast milk shown to influence the microbiome early in life as well as the development of the immune system. It also has introduced a probiotic-based nutritional supplement to ease anxiety in dogs.
Increasingly, companies such as Nestlé are developing more foods and beverages that target a specific audience rather than the mass market. Developing more functional ingredients for personalized nutrition could not only benefit global CPG firms, but it might result in better ways to manage food allergies, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, CMI said. The microbiome has been linked to the brain in mouse studies, the center added, so it's possible tiny microbes in the gut can impact anxiety, personality traits, depression and even autism.
Given the potential for both human health and industry profits, other food and beverage companies have gotten into this area. DuPont Nutrition & Health has established a "Microbiome Venture" partnership with the APC Microbiome Institute in Ireland to create products that help establish a healthy microbiome for infants. Danone, which has tapped into probiotics with its Activia yogurt, has contributed educational grants and fellowships to support research into the microbiome.
Markets and Markets estimated global probiotic ingredient sales will increase from $49.4 billion in 2018 to $69.3 billion in 2023, a compound annual growth rate of 7%.
In addition to infant formula and pet food, applications in the microbiome could be personalized to provide more effective long-term health benefits for consumers. Research has shown that one-size-fits-all dietary guidelines are too simplistic, so market opportunities could open up as more information is known about the microbiome.
Nestlé has already waded into this segment. Last year, the company introduced a personalized nutrition program in Japan called "Wellness Ambassador" that combines artificial intelligence, DNA testing and meal analysis to collect consumer data on diet and tailor food products to meet those specifications.
While this approach could raise questions about how to balance personal privacy and health, more products are likely to emerge from research partnerships and a greater understanding of how the microbiome works.