The shifting global market for digestive health

2 May 2020

Maintaining digestive health is a major focus for consumers, and related claims on foods, beverages and supplements continue to grow worldwide. What are the main areas of focus for global manufacturers?

When it comes to functional products for gut health, probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods dominate the market, but consumers’ preferred product format is shifting. While probiotic yoghurts and fermented milk products still account for the biggest portion of available products, in 2015, supplements overtook the dairy sector as the biggest category for new product launches carrying digestive health claims, according to Innova Market Insights, and supplements have remained the most commonly introduced format for digestive health products ever since.

The shifting global market for digestive health
The global market for digestive health products continues to evolve

However, snacks are the fastest-growing category worldwide, growing at a CAGR of 26% from 2015 to 2019, while the growth rate for both sports nutrition and soft drinks stood at an impressive 11%.

Australasia is the leading market for foods, beverages and supplements that carry claims related to digestive health, with 6.9% of new products featuring a gut health claim. The region is followed by North America, at 5.7% of new products, and Asia, at 3.2%, but even in the European market, 2.3% of new products carry a digestive health claim, despite strict regulatory restrictions.

Interest in low-FODMAP diets explains at least some of the heightened interest in Australasia, which has led a surge in claims worldwide related to the diet for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The research related to developing the low-FODMAP diet was carried out at Monash University in Melbourne, and a related certification programme for low-FODMAP foods means Australian products have driven market growth for certified products. According to Innova, the number of new foods and drinks carrying a low-FODMAP claim increased an average of 130% a year from 2014 to 2018, and the diet has attracted interest from food companies around the world, including from as far afield as the Finnish company Fazer Mills, and Ireland-headquartered Kerry Group.

When it comes to probiotics, global firms continue to invest in research to back specific strains for specific health effects. Chr Hansen, for instance, offers nine different probiotic strains, and hundreds of clinical trials have investigated them for a range of potential benefits, including for digestive health. Meanwhile, Yakult has taken a different approach, focusing on only its L. casei Shirota strain – again, with hundreds of human trials examining its potential for various benefits, including gut health.

However, although probiotics still lead the market for digestive health products, prebiotics have emerged as a more holistic approach.

Nevertheless, growing understanding of how to influence the microbiome has led many to conclude that neither pro- nor prebiotics provide the whole picture when it comes to digestive health. A focus on gut health for its own sake seems almost a reductionist approach, as researchers increasingly uncover the myriad ways in which a healthy gut may affect overall health, from blood glucose levels and heart health, to mental health and weight management.

And as more consumers have started to hear this message, the digestive health market looks set for rapid growth and change in the coming years.

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