Between food and nutrition: future prebiotic trends

Taking an inward view of consumer well-being, there are a number of landmark changes that have influenced the commercial health market in recent years, reports Gareth Clark, European Sales and Marketing Director, Clasado Biosciences

For instance, breakthroughs in understanding areas such as immune health have created entire nutraceutical market segments and further ignited the consumer imagination.

As 2021 shapes up to be the “year of the gut,” propelled by a rapidly growing public awareness of digestive health and, specifically, gut bacteria and their influence on overall health and well-being, it’s clear that consumers are increasingly focusing on the gastrointestinal tract.

As such, prebiotics, or “dietary fibres” are becoming an ever more important commercial segment for food brands and supplement manufacturers alike.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that occur naturally in many foods and are finding rapidly growing applications in supplements and functional foods as brands look to offer new products that have multifaceted health benefits.

Following the first annual Global Prebiotics Week, the Global Prebiotic Association (GPA) highlighted that in many geographies, prebiotic awareness is on the up, which offers significant commercial opportunities for brand owners and product developers.

The prebiotic market is expected to achieve compound annual growth of more than 8.5% until 2024, according to intelligence agency Global Market Insights.

This rise represents a combined global market value of more than $7.2 billion. It’s clear that, as an ingredient, prebiotic fibre is on the rise. But what about application: what does the future use of prebiotics look like for the food, health and nutrition sectors?

Blurring the lines between food and nutrition

One of the most exciting prospects for food manufacturing brands is the use of prebiotics to create new functional or fortified foods. Essentially, the consumer is looking for “nutrition plus.”

Essential nutrients that we know are important to the body are increasingly becoming the foundation of functional food formulations. Shoppers are looking for foods that offer more than sustenance; they are seeking added nutritional value within existing everyday food products.

Gareth Clark

Prebiotics are perhaps the most likely candidate for functional foods because of their stability. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics do not have to account for survivability. This includes during the manufacturing process, when exposed to heat and acidity, as well as when passing through the human digestive system.

Not only that, the “fibre gap” situation is a growing public health concern. The reference intake for fibre is 30 g per day, including 5 g of prebiotic fibre.

However, studies on behalf of Public Health England demonstrate that fewer than 10% of individuals in the UK are reaching this amount.1

There is ample opportunity for brands and nutritional formulators to introduce functional foods that help to boost fibre intake and, at the same time, harness the marketing potential of this approach.

Recently, one of the world’s largest breakfast cereal brands elevated the important role of dietary fibre by introducing a new prebiotic cereal, the first of its kind on this scale.

We are at a real tipping point for the prebiotic market; opportunities abound in a number of food categories. Dairy, baked goods and beverages are three sectors that stand to really benefit from introducing prebiotics into formulations and ride this new wave of consumer engagement.

Immunity in focus

From the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic through to today and into the foreseeable future, there is a rapidly rising interest in immune health. Consumers are looking to get proactive and learn more about how the body’s natural defences work … and how the immune system can be supported. Putting the gut microbiome into the spotlight, good gut bacteria play an important role by supporting the immune system.

Although prebiotic fibre doesn’t have a direct relationship with immunity in and of itself, the good gut bacteria that ferment prebiotics do.

They are increasingly associated with both innate and adaptive immune function benefits and the relationship between gut and immune health has been the focus of many studies. As consumers around the globe look to support immune function, the gut microbiome is taking centre stage.

After all, many are surprised to hear that 70% of the entire immune system is located in the gut.

The science behind gut health is still a relatively new field but, based on current findings, which include our own studies into our prebiotic GOS ingredient Bimuno, there is clear evidence that connects the efficacy of prebiotics with immune markers.

Fresh opportunity for synbiotics

There is growing interest in the synbiotic category as nutraceutical manufacturers look to court today’s more health-conscious consumer. Until recently, synbiotics were not clearly defined and thus open to interpretation. In 2020, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) changed this with a standardised definition.

The agreed definition of a synbiotic is “a mixture comprising live micro-organisms and substrate(s) selectively utilised by host micro-organisms that confers a health benefit on the host.”

In essence, a synbiotic combines a probiotic and a prebiotic into one product, adding more “good bacteria” to the gut matrix while also fuelling the good gut bacteria that are already native to the host.

With gut health so high on the consumer agenda for 2021, synbiotic products could be the next nutraceutical category to take off. As with prebiotics, the synbiotic category provides opportunities for functional food developers to get creative and harness the consumer appetite for gut-focused products that fit effortlessly into everyday routines.

In summary, the coming year is likely to see greater exploration of prebiotics by brands, manufacturers and formulators. Gut health awareness is becoming more common and, as a result, there are sizable retail opportunities for products that integrate prebiotics ahead of competitors.

We are expecting that the momentum previously enjoyed by prebiotics is only the tip of the iceberg. Real-world examples of big-name brands disrupting markets and forging new segments shows just how commercially viable the technology is.

At Clasado Biosciences, we work with businesses of every size, all around the globe. Our prebiotic ingredient Bimuno is the most studied prebiotic of its kind.

Designed to offer brands the science-backed gut microbiome technology that engages the consumer, Bimuno provides commercial appeal and versatility in one singular ingredient.

As a leader in prebiotic development, we are excited to see the how the category evolves and brands introduce new products to disrupt the market.

Reference

1. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/699241/NDNS_results_years_7_and_8.pdf.

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