Farwell to an old taboo

The digestive health market is poised for growth with an expanding amount of ingredient and delivery options

Bloating. Coeliac Disease. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A decade ago, I would have taken a more discreet approach to discussing these digestive issues. They, and countless other gastrointestinal complaints, were considered to be too taboo to talk about.

Nowadays, they are splashed across health blogs, featured in primetime TV ads and have become an area of focus for consumer health, signifying that the taboo is fading and almost gone.

With the US digestive health market estimated to be worth $65 billion and with 37% of consumers thought to be managing some type of digestive health issue (Natural Marketing Institute/Nielsen), it’s about time that the public not only acknowledges — but also addresses — digestive health to the same extent that we deal with other health concerns.

As the taboo fades and as more research links digestive health to other health benefits, we are witnessing more consumer education on the subject as well as the proliferation of new digestive health products. Probiotics is the rising star in the market with North America, led by the US, predicted to attain gains at 6.5% CAGR and be worth $6.5 billion by 2023 (Global Market Insights), followed by fibres and blends of prebiotics and probiotics.

As an increasing number of studies regarding the efficacy of these ingredients are published, they are changing how we address digestive health. However, we are not only seeing a rise in interest in these research-backed ingredients, we are also seeing a rise in tried and true botanicals — such as fennel seed and ginger — that are traditionally known for their digestive health benefits.

This is because of the mainstream trend of clean label, which demands few, free from and minimally processed ingredients as well as natural alternatives to artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Consumers are increasingly seeking out more whole food ingredient solutions compared with isolated nutrients.

As the ingredient options for digestive health becomes more robust, so too do the delivery options. Supplements were traditionally the main delivery vehicle; but, as pill fatigue becomes more commonplace, beverages are rapidly taking their place. Beverages provide a convenient, on-the-go format for consumers who are trying to avoid the ingestion of additional supplements.

Beyond beverages, we are increasingly seeing more novel delivery formats pop up in the market, from baked goods to nutrition bars to ice cream. However, as the variety of ingredients and delivery formats expands beyond traditional supplements, there are many more aspects to consider beyond efficacy, such as the characteristics of the ingredients, how they perform in certain product applications, market trends and more.

For instance, fibre can present many product development issues; but, when used in the correct product application, it can instead offer many advantages. It enhances mouthfeel, increases viscosity, provides structure, replaces fat and retains moisture.

Psyberloid (BI’s psyllium powder), which contains up to 90% fibre, can provide structure to gluten-free baked goods. It can also remove some or all of the fat from a dairy beverage and, at the same time, add mouthfeel. Removing or reducing fat usually involves two considerations, one is flavour and the other is mouth coating/mouthfeel. Psyllium is a great natural alternative to starches and gums, which are used to make up for the lack of fat in terms of texture.

Another great example of a digestive health ingredient that is becoming more popular (but was once thought to imbue too harsh an off flavour) is ginger. To some, the harshness and heat of true ginger is unappealing, but the trend in more artisanal and less sweet ginger ales as well as the flavour that comes from ginger root powder refreshes and invigorates a wide variety of applications.

The digestive health market is poised for growth with an expanding amount of ingredient and delivery options, product developers have the ability to take advantage of this growth.