Gut health is increasingly establishing itself within the food industry. Despite some ongoing issues regarding efficacy and definitions, the science behind gut health continues to encourage the use of fibers, prebiotics and probiotics for digestive health in a whole range of food and beverage products.
Digestive health was one of the key areas driving the functional foods boom in the 1980s. Nevertheless, it is continuing to generate interest as probiotics move further into the mainstream and awareness of the role of fibers and prebiotics in gut health is also boosting NPD. At the same time, interest in fermented foods has risen, not only because of their perceived digestive health benefits, but also because of their naturally processed image fitting well into current clean label and authenticity concerns.
According to Innova Market Insights research, food and beverage launches tracked with a digestive/gut health claim rose 21 percent in 2018 in the Asia-Pacific region and featured across a diverse range of products. The baby & toddlers subcategory led in terms of market penetration, with digestive gut/health claims used for over 24 percent of 2018 launches, ahead of sports nutrition with 16.5 percent, dairy with 6.6 percent and cereals with 3.7 percent.
Awareness of the role of fiber and prebiotics is now relatively well established, with Innova’s 2018 Trends Survey indicating that 7 out of 10 Chinese consumers thought that digestive health was the main reason to consume fiber, with one in three claiming to have followed a fiber-rich diet over the previous year. While fiber claims continue to be popular in the traditional categories of bakery and cereals, they are also rising in less established areas including dairy and sports nutrition.
Probiotics are also a well-established functional ingredient for digestion, and continue to see rising levels of interest, with a 72 percent rise in food and drinks launches featuring probiotics in 2018. Dairy continues to be the key area for NPD, accounting for 67 percent of Asia-Pacific launches featuring probiotic ingredients in 2018, but activity is rising in other areas, with the confectionery and snacks categories showing particular potential.
With fermentation seen as a natural and authentic process, new product development and heightened consumer awareness have combined to bring a raft of traditional products back to the fore, many of which are also positioned on a digestive or gut health platform.
Yogurt is one of the best-known fermented foods, but the success of probiotic yogurt was followed by a revamp and repositioning of other related spoonable and drinkable cultured dairy options, including crème fraiche, Smetana, skyr, ayran, lassi and kefir. Launches of drinking yogurt and fermented drinks doubled in the Asia-Pacific region in 2018, with kefir highlighted as an emerging drink with strong potential.
Key categories for fermentation outside the dairy category include sauces and seasonings, bakery and beverages, with pickles, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, sourdough bread and kombucha particularly prominent.
Kombucha, the ancient fermented tea drink from China, has been available in other countries for some years. However, with rising interest in functional beverages and fermented products it is moving out of the specialty sector into the mainstream, positioned as a sustainable, health-boosting alternative to more traditional soft drinks. Half of the kombucha-featuring launches in the APAC market also highlighted a digestive or gut health claim in 2018.