2019 could be the year for products intended to support digestive health, according to several industry groups and grocery retailers, Food Business News reported. Several entities identified “digestive wellness” as the number one trend for the next calendar year.
Until recently, probiotics had been limited to refrigerated items like yogurt and kombucha. But researchers have begun to develop temperature-stable bacterial strains that expand their potential. Expect to see more shelf stable products like probiotic-rich granola bars, nut butters and beverages in the coming months.
The category is growing thanks to an increase in demand for foods that provide some functional benefit. But for many consumers, digestive health remains uncharted territory. Manufacturers and retailers alike will have to educate and inform consumers about the benefits of prebiotics, probiotics, and other gut-healthy options.
Products designed to enrich digestive health are extending well beyond the yogurt aisle. If the past few years are any indication, digestive health will continue to grow and expand as a category over the next year. BCC Research expects that probiotics alone will reach a $50 billion market by 2020.
Probiotics have already started to show up in unexpected places. No longer just the business of the yogurt isle, they have appeared in fruit juice, pet food and gluten-free brownies. Michael Bush, executive director at Kerry for GanedenBC30, told Food Dive last year that growth in the sector had been “insanely busy” in the previous few years. The probiotic strain his division manufactures thrives in many food and beverage applications. “We just don't see any slowdown in sight,” he said.
But although they seem to be becoming ubiquitous, only 29% of customers know what probiotics are, according to a Harris Poll study cited by Kellogg.
Probiotics aren’t the only ingredient in the world of digestive health. Now companies are turning towards prebiotics, the less familiar partner of the resident gut bacteria. They provide the fiber in which probiotics thrive. According to the same Harris Poll study, just 15% of customers are familiar with prebiotics.
While companies invest in new products, they’ll also have to think about how to educate the majority of unfamiliar consumers –– and there is ample room for confusion.
Since many customers remain unfamiliar with both prebiotics and probiotics, established and young companies alike have been exploring products that tap into the growing demand. Kellogg launched Special K Nourish, which includes probiotics, last year. Just last month, the company announced a new product called HI! (or Happy Inside!) that includes probiotics, prebiotics and fiber — a “trifecta” for gut health, the company says.
Part of the expansion is thanks to new bacterial strains that do not need to be refrigerated. Manufacturers hope the increased flexibility in product design will help bring more consumers on board. The big challenge for the category is getting consumers to try new — and perhaps unusual — products. More stable shelf life for probiotics present a range of opportunities.
Retailers are on board, despite the learning curve for many customers. Whole Foods includes probiotics among its top 10 predicted food trends for 2019, in large part thanks to new shelf-stable probiotic strains that can be used in pantry products like granola. That’s alongside Kroger’s 2019 trend report, which cites gut-health foods as a category to watch, and recognition of the category from the Specialty Food Association’s Trendsetter Panel.
Millennial consumers have driven the demand for digestive-health oriented products during the past several years, fitting into the larger trend for food that delivers additional benefits. The next generation of consumers wants products and ingredients that function beyond calories and nutrition. Manufacturers and retailers are still trying to understand just how far they can push the digestive-health category. Whether newer shelf-stable products like soda and cereal take hold could indicate the limits of consumer interest.