Big food industry wants to feed our guts

September 22, 2017

By: Rafael Tonon

Prebiotics and probiotics are taking the market by storm, as an answer to the studies that link their use to healthy digestive and immune systems 

More than food that can appease our hunger, the food industry is keeping an eye on  how we will feed all the microorganisms living inside our intestines. For centuries, medicinal traditions and scientists have touted the connection between our gut and overall health. For every gram of food we eat, for example, we swallow a million more microbes that will join the pre-existent ones  to shape our microbial ecosystem.

And, as a reflection, people want to treat better those millions of tiny beings living inside our digestive tract – there are more than 300 species living there, since researchs are showing how imbalances in gut microbiota may play a role in a range of medical disorders (including diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, anxiety and depression). In more rare cases, for patients suffering from debilitating stomach ailments and inflammatory colon diseases (like C. difficile and Crohn’s disease), fecal microbiota transplants are becoming more popular as a treatment.

Last month, animal rights charity PETA launched a campaign asking generous vegans to donate their, huh, poop. “Since fecal transplants from healthy vegan donors are considered the gold standard, PETA posted a call on its website this morning urging vegans to sign up to become ‘super fecal donors’ through stool banks OpenBiome and Advancing Bio”, a Peta’s spokesperson said.

Medical professionals say fecal transplants from vegan donors are often of a better quality and are more sought after than those from meat and dairy eaters. Vegans  are more likely to have healthy bacteria. According to PETA, fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, and therefore are the best sources of nutrients for healthy gut flora.

In less extreme cases, people are more and more corcerned (and sometimes even obsessed) about eating clear food and look for the healthiest options possible, and the increasingly evident role microbes play in influencing our health is leading the Big Food, biotech and supplement  industries to redesign our food supply to nurture the microbial diversity in our guts, creating new food that is hitting our shelves.

Just look around: prebiotics and probiotics are taking the market by storm, as an answer to the studies that link the use of probiotics to healthy digestive and immune systems and that are helping to create interest in the category. The global probiotic marketplace is estimated to be valued at $50 billion by 2020, according to a report from BCC Report.

While most probiotics on the market were only available in tablet or caplet forms, new delivery systems are becoming more popular and attracting new users to the category. Think about  drinks, sodas, chews, liquids, gummies, fizzy powders, and even prefilled straws.

Probiotic beverages, including drinks, juices, shakes, and select kefirs and kombuchas, are now the second largest category, driven by consumers’ interest in probiotics and the desire for healthy drinks, according to a study conducted by Kline Market Research in the US. The three digestive health market segments covered in the study were digestive enzymes, probiotics, and probiotic beverages. The latter is also the fastest-growing category.

But there are new products trying to hitch a hike in this growing market. Truth Bar is the self-acclaimed first company to create prebiotic and probiotic nutrition bars, that will be sampled in four flavors, each of them fortified with 1 Billion CFU probiotics and added prebiotics. “Truth Bars are formulated to balance your microbiome through targeted nutrition.

Every bar uses food ingredients such as dark chocolate, creamy almond butter, or cacao nibs along with Bacillus Coagulans, a strain of probiotics backed with extensive research and clinical studies. Truth Bars also include prebiotics — a key to allowing probiotics to thrive longer to do their work in our bodies”, as their press release says.

Pre- and probiotics got even into pet food. The continuing demand for specialty, health-related formulas in pet food provides opportunities for manufacturers looking to diversify.  According to a Packaged Facts National Pet Owner Survey, probiotic/prebiotic are just some of the top health-related claims on consumer radars. Among US survey respondents, 7% of dog owners and 6% of cat owners use pet food specifically with the “probiotic/prebiotic” claim.

Diamond Pet Foods’ CARE line, for example, includes a sensitive stomach formula for adult dogs, created to address gastrointestinal issues. The grain-free diet includes probiotic strains “native to the canine GI tract,” according to the company, as well as easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins. Pet Kelp has a specific probiotic formula for dogs, where the powder supplement includes prebiotic inulin combined with four strains of probiotics, blended with kelp.

As people want to eat more clear and healthy, the industry needs to pay more attention to these tiny beings everybody has inside their intestines. There are plenty of opportunities to focus on what probiotics and prebiotics can do in specialty formulations—whether in complete diets, as a supplement or as a stand-alone ingredient in concert with manufacturers.  Who could have thought such tiny beings could generate such large profits?

Rafael Tonon

+ posts by Rafael

Rafael Tonon is a journalist and food writer. He writes about food, drinks and trends in gastronomy. He contributes to many media outlets, such as Eater, Vice, Slate and more. He maintains the trend food blog What the Fork.

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