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Demand for Digestive Health Solutions Continues to Rise

Digestive Health Digestive Health

The defining nutrition trend of 2020 has probably (and unsurprisingly) been the growing interest in immune health. However, the pandemic has also made consumers more aware of their wellness generally, and more determined to protect it. In particular, the pandemic appears to have increased interest in digestive health, of which 13 percent of consumers worldwide say they are now more conscious.

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Probably the best-known digestive health ingredients are probiotics, markets for which continued to grow in 2020. One reason for this is that they offer immune health benefits, in addition to the digestive health role for which they are better known. Last year, for example, research found that supplementation with the Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 strain may help modulate immune response in children. Indeed, research this year in Turkey found that probiotics were the top ingredient associated with immune health support.

However, the growing demand for probiotics is also part of a broader, and much longer story, one driven by two parallel and interlinked factors—consumer demand and a large body of scientific evidence for health benefits. This has continued to expand in 2020, with recent research providing new evidence that some probiotic ingredients can support amino acid absorption.

Probiotics: Consumers are Interested, Aware and Willing to Act

Broadly speaking, three consumer trends have driven growth in probiotic markets—concern about digestive health, awareness and a general willingness to be proactive.

Over the past five years, the number of Google searches for “Gut Health” has more than quadrupled. This is partly lifestyle related. A wide range of external factors can disrupt the gut microbiota and therefore impact health. In addition to familiar sources of stress like work, and obvious lifestyle risks like poor diet, factors such as medication and hormonal changes can affect the gut.

Of course, there are many ingredients that offer benefits for gut health, but probiotics score highest on awareness. In a 2019 survey, we asked health-conscious consumers about their awareness and usage of healthy lifestyle ingredients. Sixty-two per cent of those in the US and 67 percent in China were aware of probiotics. There was also a good understanding of what they do—in Brazil, for example, 67 percent of consumers who were aware of probiotics correctly identified their benefits for digestive health.

Finally, consumers are willing to act on their interest by buying products containing ingredients such as probiotics. This is partly because of an increasingly proactive approach to health generally. Globally, 42 percent of consumers actively seek out products that can improve their health, and 47 percent react to health problems when they arise.

Another analysis explored the commitment of consumers in relation to food and drink products with a digestive health positioning. It found that 44 percent intended to seek out such products on a shopping trip and 36 percent were willing to pay a premium for food and drink products with a digestive health positioning.

Consumers Want to See the Proof

Another trend that has appeared to have gathered pace during the pandemic is demand for claims backed by evidence. Half (49 percent) of global consumers say they now want more information about the nutritional benefits of products, while two thirds (64 percent) say they will now pay more attention to claims.

Scientific substantiation is particularly important in the probiotic space, because not all strains are created equal. Many products on the market don’t live up to the hype, and when it comes to wellness benefits, there are huge differences between strains. It’s hard to overstate the importance of using a probiotic supported by high-quality research, especially when consumers are increasingly savvy and are being advised to engage with the science supporting the products they buy. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, for example, urges them to “hunt a little” for “scientific evidence of probiotic health benefits.”

New Evidence of a Role in Protein Digestion

One probiotic strain that certainly does meet the demand for scientific substantiation is Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086. It is supported by more than 25 published papers demonstrating benefits in areas such as immunity, as well as digestive health. And in 2020, new evidence emerged of the role it plays in another area of increasing concern to consumers.

The ability of our bodies to use protein is critical to many functions, but it can be influenced by factors like aging, stress and the rigors of physical activity. Since the rate of protein absorption can decline with age, it’s particularly important for seniors to be able to efficiently utilize the protein they consume. Meanwhile, sportspeople and active lifestylers at all levels are seeking the muscle-building and recovery benefits of protein. Finally, wellness-focused consumers generally are increasingly identifying protein utilization support as a desired functional benefit in their everyday foods and beverages.

Ensuring healthy protein absorption and utilization starts with meeting dietary needs. This can be difficult but adding certain probiotics to a healthy diet can help, as demonstrated by new research. Published in Nutrition & Metabolism, the double-blind randomized, controlled crossover study added to the body of research demonstrating that the strain can increase amino acid absorption into the bloodstream.

Thirty men and women between the ages of 18 and 55 ingested 25g of milk protein concentrate with or without 1 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) of Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 daily for two weeks. Blood samples were taken at regular intervals and analyzed for concentrations of 22 amino acids. Significantly greater quantities of amino acids were found in the blood of participants who consumed the strain than those in the control group. They also had higher maximum concentrations of 10 amino acids.

GanedenBC30 for Consumer Needs

This is a happy example of probiotic research keeping pace with the needs of consumers. As they develop new needs, such as protein utilization, science delivers more evidence that some probiotic strains can meet them. However, the key word here is some. The positive findings of a study that looks at a particular strain and its impact on health cannot be used to support that of another. The strain used in this study was GanedenBC30, (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) Kerry’s patented spore-forming probiotic ingredient. Supported by over 25 papers, and hardy enough to be used in a wide range of food and beverage applications, it’s the ideal strain for constantly evolving consumer needs. NIE

John Quilter, Kerry vice president and general manager, leads the development and growth of Kerry’s ProActive Health technologies. He holds a bachelor of agriculture science from University College Dublin (UCD), a master of food science from UCD and a professional diploma in strategy, innovation and change from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.