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The Gut Health Category: How Is It Evolving?

We explore how retailers and food brands can unlock the explosive gut health category…

Over-indulged? Well, it is December, the time of endless fizz, party canapes, Quality Streets, cheese boards, and not to mention the great feast itself, the glorious Christmas Day dinner. No wonder we feel a little ‘delicate’!

There is plenty of help at hand though. The health and wellbeing category continues its pacey growth, with, we are noting, a conscious focus from the consumer on gut health – BUPA noted an 83% increase in Google searches for ‘gut health’ and a 60% increase in searches for ‘gut brain axis’ (the connection between mental health and digestive health) last year.

As the gut health trend grows steadily, the category is reaching beyond the mainstay yogurt-based drinks and supplements and into exciting new food and beverage formats. Products that boast gut-health-boosting properties provide a fast-growing opportunity for food brands and retailers.

What is gut health?

Gut health refers to the gut microbiome – a vast ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses that live in our digestive tract. The gut microbiome is responsible for 70% of our immune system and produces 90% of our serotonin. If the balance of this delicate ecosystem is disrupted, then it will soon show in a multitude of varying health issues.

Diet is one of the biggest influences on gut health, with prebiotics and probiotics playing an important role in this:

Prebiotics: fibres that feed and stimulate the growth of good gut bacteria. Especially good sources include bananas, leeks, onions, garlic and asparagus, wholegrains, oats, almonds, cashews, beans and pulses.

Probiotics: live, friendly bacteria and microorganisms that support the healthy balance in our gut, found in varying foodstuffs including live yoghurt, cultured drinks, tempeh, miso, and fermented vegetables such as kimchi and krauts.

With consumers proactively seeking food and beverage products that promote gut health, there is an open opportunity for food brands and retailers to harness ingredients with prebiotic and probiotic potential and innovate new products to meet this demand.

How is the gut health category evolving?

Mainstay products to date are the probiotic-containing yogurts and functional beverages. Having been around for many years, there is now reliable research and evidenced data that they can, in some cases, promote gut health. Nestle, Danone, and Yakult dominate the probiotics market in the UK, and Actimel, Activia, and Yakult are the top brands globally.

Many global cuisines have their own particular gut healthy ingredients and recipes, and as our taste buds travel ever further in search of new flavours they are becoming more widely recognised amongst consumers, and popular with Gen Z in particular. These newer to market ingredients are seen as more exciting additions to what was perhaps previously viewed as a clinical and slightly boring category:

Kefir

Kefir cheese - an example of a gut health category product

Kefir is essentially a cultured milk drink with a tart, sour flavour and a slight fizz (sometimes referred to as the ‘champagne of milk’), left from the carbon dioxide at the end of the fermentation process. Its point of difference from yogurt is that it uses both bacteria and yeast in its fermentation process. Kefir is showing rapid growth in consumer recognition and is forecasted to expect a year-on-year growth of 5.5% through to 2030 (maximisemarketresearch.com). On the introduction of its first kefir producer, Biotiful Dairy, Tesco saw sales of kefir drinks increase by 400% during 2019/20. Kefir has also driven innovation in the cheese category with a growing number of kefir milk cheeses now found on-shelf.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a non-dairy fermented beverage, made by adding bacteria, yeast and sugar to black or green tea. Kombucha is a slower ferment than kefir and can take several weeks to develop its unique flavour profile.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, packed with probiotics to support the gut. It is traditionally made by combining shredded cabbage, salt and spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.

Kimchi

Kimchi is best described as a slightly spicy Korean sauerkraut made from fermented vegetables, usually napa cabbage, daikon radish and carrots. Garlic, ginger and Korean chili are added for flavour, before it is lacto-fermented, developing acidity and a complex umami flavour.

Kōji

Koji is an essential component in both Japanese cuisine and cooking across other parts of East Asia, and refers to rice that has been sprinkled with kōji mould. Kōji is used as the fermentation starter for a wide variety of Japanese food staples, including sake, miso, and soy sauce.

Yuzu koshō

Yuzu koshō is a Japanese paste with a a powerful and distinctive flavour. It’s made from fresh chillies fermented with salt along with zest and juice from the East Asian citrus fruit yuzu.

Tempeh

Originating in Indonesia, tempeh is a fermented soybean product rich in plant-protein which functions as both prebiotic and probiotic. Traditionally made by fermenting soybeans in banana leaves, its flavour can be loosely described as nuts and mushrooms.

Innovations in the gut health space

M&S Gut Health Juice Shots

A delicious blend of pineapple and turmeric juices with apple, mango puree and coconut milk with added chicory fibre and live cultures.

M&S's gut health category offering - Pineapple, Mango, Coconut Milk and Tumeric shots

L.A Brewery

L.A Brewery are a non-alcoholic microbrewery offering a variety of upmarket kombucha flavours, great for drinking on their own or including in non-alcoholic cocktails.

L.A Brewery's range of kombucha drinks

Bottlebrush Ferments

Calling themselves the ‘fermentalists’, Bottlebrush Ferments produce a Great Taste award-winning range of kimchi and sauerkrauts.

Bottlebrush ferments' range of gut health category products

The Cultured Collective

The Cultured Collective specialise in craft kimchi and sauerkraut, and have recently teamed up with celebrity chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to launch a range of organic sauerkrauts.

Organic live sauerkraut from The Cultured Collective and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Are you wanting to address gut health on your menus? Develop products to push the category boundaries? Looking for a little fermentation inspiration?

Get in touch! FIS Group can fulfil all your needs be it innovation, creation, sensory or market research.

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