With 60-70 million people in the U.S. suffering from digestive disease, gut health consistently ranks among consumers’ top health concerns.
Mintel research suggests that rather than taking supplements, many consumers would rather eat foods that will naturally benefit their digestive system. With the emergence of the “Vegetable Snack” category, consumers are looking for healthy snacks that offer natural health benefits, such as digestion support. Further, Mintel’s consumer study found that 65% of women and 57% of men reported managing their digestive system in part by consuming food naturally high in fiber.
With lactose intolerance affecting 30-50 million U.S. consumers, and gluten allergies affecting approximately 3 million, the market for foods, beverages and supplements without these tough-to-digest proteins is growing. Innova Market Insights data from 2012 found that the global launch numbers for lactose-free dairy products more than tripled in a five-year period to the beginning of 2012, with the U.S. and Western Europe standing out as emerging markets. The gluten-free market also saw significant growth in 2012, according to Packaged Facts, reportedly reaching $4.2 billion.
Interestingly, both gluten-free and lactose-free products saw considerable sales from consumers without diagnosed intolerances, which many attribute to these “free-from” products having a healthy perception by consumers.
With the global market for functional foods and drinks projected to reach $149 billion by 2018, a significant portion of this market will be dedicated to products that support digestion.
Adding fiber to a wide range of products, from baked goods to fruit juices to breakfast cereal, has long been popular in the digestive space. Experts in the field now predict the addition of prebiotic fibers could be the next big trend in functional foods.
Probiotics are also a growing segment of the functional food and beverage market. In fact, the probiotic industry is expected to reach $32 billion by 2015, with the majority ($30 billion) being generated from functional foods and beverages, primarily yogurt products.
Certain consumers are more responsive to the digestive health message than others. For example, Mintel research has found that women are twice as likely to use probiotics than men. Further, men and women age 45 and up were reported to be considerably more likely than younger consumers to eat foods naturally high in fiber in order to maintain good gut health. Respondents aged 55+ also reported being much more likely to use and purchase digestive products, such as Metamucil.
The science connecting good gut health to a strong immune system has grown rapidly in the last several years. In fact, studies show that 60-70% of our immune cells reside in the gut.
As a result, consumer consciousness of the critical link between the gut and the immune system is becoming more accepted and understood. Nutrition Business Journal reported that the digestive health and immune function categories combined account for about 12% of the supplement category, growing at roughly 14% per year.
Experts agree that the best way to meet the recommended daily fiber intake (25 grams/day for women and 38 grams/day for men) is by including naturally fibrous foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, oats, nuts, seeds and dried beans, in your diet. According to a survey from Mintel, 65% of women and 57% of men do just that, while a 2011 Natural Marketing Institute Health & Wellness Trends study found that 9% of adults prefer to rely on the use of fiber supplements.
Regardless of their preferred delivery method, consumers are looking for fiber in the products they buy. A 2012 HealthFocus Study found that 31% of shoppers indicate they always/usually choose foods/beverages because they are high in fiber, and 35% indicate they always/usually maintain a high fiber diet.
Be it a result of an unhealthy diet or a natural intolerance to certain food-derived fats, carbohydrates or proteins, many consumers experience gastrointestinal discomfort due to digestive enzyme deficiency. Luckily, digestive enzyme supplements are available to help the body break down food more easily, as well as absorb beneficial nutrients better.
While digestive enzymes can support overall digestion, they’re especially useful for those suffering from serious dietary intolerances such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance. In light of the overwhelming number of individuals suffering from these intolerances, many specific enzyme blends are being developed to help support those unable to breakdown proteins and sugars such as gluten or lactose.
The prebiotic market has seen considerable growth in recent years, in part because of its complementary relationship with probiotics. Prebiotics are soluble fibers, which when ingested can help the beneficial bacteria in the gut thrive. Often referred to as “food” for probiotic bacteria, prebiotics are an emerging segment of the digestive health space poised for continued growth.
A recent report from Transparency Market Research noted that the most popular prebiotic ingredient is inulin, representing 40% of global market share.
Wide consumer awareness for these “beneficial bacteria” has helped probiotics become a mainstream remedy for digestive woes. This already powerful market is forecast to reach $44.9 billion by 2018, with much of its growth stemming from the launch of functional foods and beverages that pack a probiotic punch. Still, many consumers opt for a traditional supplement to get their probiotic fix. SPINS reported that probiotic supplement sales grew 23.8% between 2011 and 2012, to reach $308 million.
Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach as a result of stress or anxiety? The links between your mental state and your stomach is often referred to as the “Gut-Brain Axis.” Known as the enteric nervous system, some 100 million neurons connect these two vital organs. Within the enteric nervous system lives 95% of the body’s serotonin—a crucial chemical that contributes to feelings of well-being and pleasure.
Leaders in the digestive health space, such as Montreal, Canada’s Lallemand Health Solutions have begun developing products based on this connection. The company’s product Probio-Stick is a stress-targeting probiotic supplement, which clinical trials have shown to reduce anxiety-related gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.