A gut feeling: what does the future hold for probiotics?

With an abundance of scientific information at their fingertips, consumers are now better informed than ever before on a wide range of health topics and, as they increasingly look to take the lead in their own health and well-being, the search for so-called preventive solutions is on. Chris Lee, Managing Director, Health and Nutrition Network, Europe, reports Informa Markets

Gut health, in particular, is an area that holds great potential for many health-conscious consumers. Conversations about gut health have been ramping up in recent years and consumer demand continues to rise for products that promise a wealth of digestive health and immunity benefits.

For example, the potential link between our gut microbiome and optimum health has seen probiotics come to the fore. Yet, despite strong market growth, there are still several regulatory hurdles to overcome for the probiotics industry, especially in the EU. Plus, with topics such as labelling and health claims under ever-increasing scrutiny, what does the future hold for probiotics?

The outlook

With a growing bank of scientific research behind it, the probiotics category is understandably booming. According to recent figures, the market is expected to reach $7.1 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 7.8%.1

Probiotic products fit easily into a more proactive approach to individuals’ healthcare as people look to boost their health and immunity through foods, beverages and supplements. Innovation in delivery formats has also helped to grow probiotic sales, with applications expanding to include cutting-edge products such as yoghurts, fruit juices and cultured dairy drinks.

However, since the introduction of the European Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR-EC 1924/2006) in 2006, there has been widespread confusion in the market. Following a ban on the term “probiotics” on labels, there have been concerns that growth in Europe is not following the same upward trajectory as elsewhere in the world.

Plus, manufacturers must now follow strict scientific requirements for the manufacture of probiotics with specific health claims — raising questions about the potential for innovation and further investment in the area. According to the International Probiotics Association (IPA), the EU was the top global market for probiotic yoghurt and supplement sales until the new regulations were implemented — but now ranks third, globally, behind China and the US.

A growing market

Despite the challenges that the probiotics sector must overcome, the market is also seeing increased interest from consumers looking to treat common gut health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and diarrhoea brought on by antibiotic use.

In fact, the number of people experiencing digestive issues is growing globally. Estimates put the figure for IBD sufferers at more than three million in the US and Europe, with greater prevalence in high-income, industrialised countries.2

As consumers seek solutions to alleviate these conditions and improve their digestive health, probiotics have become a popular option owing to their positive market perception as well as their versatility in application.

Growth in the category has also been driven by the weight of scientific evidence that suggests dietary factors, such as probiotics, could have a positive effect on immune function too — with a focus on food intolerances and allergies.

The World Allergy Organisation (WAO) estimates that 10–40% of the global population suffers from some form of food allergy, with the actual figure depending on the country.3 As well as these official figures, there is also a rising number of “worried well” consumers, who are self-diagnosing their symptoms as food intolerances and are therefore seeking a convenient, off-the-shelf solution.

The demand for health boosting options in a readily available format offers manufacturers an opportunity to innovate in the probiotic category. Ready made packs of functional drinks are now widely available on retail shelves, which are ideal for consumers with busy lifestyles looking to improve their gut health on-the-go.

In addition, probiotic ingredients are no longer confined to just yoghurts and ready-to-drink beverages, but are increasingly being formulated in supplements and other non-milk-based products. The inclusion of probiotic strains in juices, for example, has helped to diversify the consumer base by appealing to those with milk allergies as well as bringing a fresh-tasting and new perspective to the marketplace.

Looking ahead

So, where next for the probiotics market? According to Bill Gates, probiotics could help to tackle malnutrition in the future. Research at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is already under way to learn more about each individual microbial species and how they interact with food in the body to impact our health.

Their aim is to create the next generation of probiotic products within the next 10–20 years that contain the best combinations of bacteria strains to balance the gut microbiome for optimum health — potentially tailoring nutrition to specific digestive systems and individuals.

By better understanding the intricacies of the human digestive system, there is an opportunity to discover how we can optimise microbial activity for improved health across varied demographic and geographical groups.

Through targeted, specially designed nutritional products, probiotics could help the uptake of nutrients and vitamins from food and bridge widespread nutritional deficiencies, an affliction that affects approximately 200 million children younger than 5 years of age.4

The probiotic story continues

As always, gut health is a key focus for us at Informa. This year sees the launch of our first-ever Vitafoods Virtual Expo on 7–11 September 2020.

The aim is to provide a global platform for industry connectivity, facilitating discussions on a variety of challenges, including how to create innovative and appealing foods, beverages and dietary supplements that support gut health.

Plus, our new Thematic Micro-Communities within the virtual event will focus on key industry topics such as probiotics, with unique and tailored learning experiences supported by science.

References

  • www.vitafoodsinsights.com/digestive-and-probiotics/probiotics-dietary-supplements-market-reach-710-billion-2026.
  • www.thelancet.com/journals/langas/article/PIIS2468-1253(19)30333-4/fulltext.
  • S. Precott, et al., “A Global Survey of Changing Patterns of Food Allergy Burden in Children,” World Allergy Organ. J. 6(1), 21: doi: 10.1186/1939-4551-6-21 (2013).
  • www.unicef.org/media/60806/file/SOWC-2019.pdf.

Companies