The Rise and Potential of Gut Health

A version of this article originally appeared in the Digestive Health digital issue of Natural Products Insider.

Food as medicine is becoming a topic of interest to consumers as they opt for prevention over treatment. How consumers approach healthy living varies significantly across regions. Asia Pacific and Australasia stand out with a preference for artificial measures, while Western Europe and Latin America favor more natural solutions. In North America, Canada has a much stronger focus on natural while consumers in the US opt for more artificial remedies, spending twice as much on vitamins and dietary supplements as their neighbors. Vitamin and dietary supplements are often taken on top of—not instead of—fortified/functional and naturally/healthy food and beverages.

Graph showing consumer health preferences

Source: Euromonitor International

According to Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition Survey 2020, about one-quarter of consumers globally suffer from lower digestive health issues. In half of those cases, consumers claim that this has a moderate or even severe impact on their overall health. Gut health goes far beyond solely digestive health, encompassing immunity support and weight management. Gut health refers to a well-balanced microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract and is shown to impact physical and mental wellbeing. Gut health is also related to numerous diseases, such as diabetes, obesity or autoimmune disease, and recent research even suggests an impact on mood due to the so-called gut-brain axis.

Thus far, the trend around gut health has been a phenomenon of the Western Hemisphere and has less significance in Asia Pacific. However, the coronavirus outbreak spurred growth in probiotic yogurt in China and Japan as consumers seek products that provide immune support. In China, fortified/functional yogurt has seen double-digit growth at a compound annual rate of 12% between 2014-2019, according to Euromonitor International. This strong growth comes from a relatively low base as consumers start to increase their dairy intake through convenient formats.

In Western markets, gut health is gaining popularity among consumers who pursue a holistic approach to healthy living. Ingredients, such as probiotics and fiber, are key to support a healthy gut microbiome. Considering the recommended fiber intake of 30 grams per day, consumers’ diets tend to fall short, especially in markets like the US and UK. With growing awareness, high-fiber products are gaining traction.

Probiotics have also made their way into plant-based food, which is currently flourishing on the back of the flexitarian trend. Capitalizing on the popularity of plant-based variants, products like Califia Probiotic Dairy Free Yogurt in the US or Coyo Organic Coconut Milk Kefir in the UK have merged gut-friendly probiotic strains with dairy alternatives. In the future, the trend is expected to move from a focus on probiotics (which add good bacteria to the gut) to prebiotics (which feed the good bacteria in the gut) or synbiotics (a combination of both probiotics and prebiotics).

Gut health is expected to gain further traction in 2020 and beyond. Post-COVID-19 consumers are expected to focus much more on preventative health and will pay more attention to healthy nutrition. The link between gut health and immunity support will likely provide a further boost. While it has been an emerging trend in 2019, more manufacturers are addressing gut health in their product marketing. However, there is still work to be done to reach a wider audience and improve the understanding of gut health and the microbiome.