Gut health is top of mind for consumers. They are thinking more carefully about it, and actively seeking products to feel better. As a result, trends in the digestive health space (healthcare products with digestive claims) are tracking more closely to food and beverage trends than ever before. The U.S. market for digestive products grew 12% 2012-2017. Let’s take a look at opportunities in the space, including flavor offerings, the claims showing enormous growth, up-and-coming ingredients and innovation in forms and formats.
Before diving into the digestive healthcare market, let’s look at the food and beverage industry, since consumers are increasingly looking to what they eat and drink as “natural” ways to improve digestive health, including easing inflammatory bowel conditions and balancing friendly bacteria.
We see minerals, vitamins, herbs, fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, prebiotics and probiotics being incorporated in energy, sports and vegetable drinks, juices, yogurt, snacks and fermented products, such as the Millennial-favorite kombucha.Technavio predicts such ingredients will drive global growth and lead the US functional (digestive) food/beverage market to a CAGR of almost 7% from 2017 to 2021. We will see many of these ingredients in the healthcare market throughout this report.
“Due to growing consumer understanding and interest, medicinal foods are rising in the natural food and beverage space, where functional ingredients rooted in the real world (as opposed to labs) are increasingly in demand.” —Kara Nielsen, Food Processing
The US and India are the top markets for digestive products. The US saw 572 new products on shelves over the reviewed time period and 526 products were launched in India. Germany is third with just shy of 300 digestive health products launched since January 2012.
Looking at the top 10 countries for the full years of 2012-2016, we see two very different launch stories. Countries such as Germany (+64%), Italy (+52%), India (+18%) and the US (+12%) showed growth, while China (-83%), France (-75%), South Africa (-60%) Spain (-54%) and Vietnam (-47%) saw steep declines. Chinese launches of digestive products dropped 83% 2012-2016.Of the decliners, China has shown the most bounce back in 2017, going from 9 to 32 products as of September.
Unflavored/Plain is by far the most popular flavor for digestive healthcare products, tallying 2,685 launches since January 2012 (65%). Second place (mint) only appears in 119 new products. Lemon (+92%), Berry (+70%), Aloe (+67%), and Orange (+48%) are the flavors in the top 10 where we see the most growth from January 2012 through 2016. Aloe is found almost exclusively in Indian products, while the Germans have the market on Peppermint. Cherry, Berry and Orange are decidedly American flavors.
65% of digestive products are Unflavored/Plain, meaning a big opportunity.
Three digestive health flavors seen for the first time in 2017
Rising claims in the digestive product category reflect wider food and beverage trends. While dairy consumption declines and alternative milks go mainstream, digestive healthcare products with a Dairy Free claim rose 177% from January 2012 through September of this year, which includes a 2,000% increase from Q3 2016 to Q3 2017. And as animal and planet well-being continues to drive consumers, we see Environmentally Friendly Product claims rising +367% between 2012-2016; Vegan +177%; GMO- Free +172%; No Animal Ingredients +129%; and Environmentally Friendly Package +98%. Organic, Premium and Vegetarian also experienced solid gains.
Heart health is making an appearance in digestive products, as well. The Cardiovascular claim rose 51% with ingredients such as chia, nettle, calcium, LRC (said to be a heart healthy bacteria), folic acid, neem, psyllium husk, milk thistle oil, and lime powder called out as benefitting various aspects of cardiac health.
According to Food Processing magazine, emerging research shows Aquamin, a mineral derived from the cytoskeleton or red seaweed, can help “maintain a healthy digestive barrier in the stomach necessary to thwart chronic inflammation in the GI tract.”
Ireland’s Marigot company is studying Aquamin’s application in breads (including gluten-free formulations), ice cream, rice, pasta and cereal bars. While insignificant alone, the studied elements in Aquamin “work synergistically” with calcium and magnesium says Marigot’s commercial manager David O’Leary, inhibiting gut inflammation.
An Instagram star (especially in black cold pressed juices) and touted by the Bulletproof brand, various paleo and crossfit enthusiasts, and bloggers as a way to help with digestive health, reduce cholesterol, and remove other impurities from the body, the University of Utah warns there have been no substantive research studies into those supposed benefits. “There really isn’t any reliable evidence to support these claims,” said Amberly Johnson, Poison Information Specialist with the Utah Poison Control Center. “Activated charcoal should only be given in healthcare facilities.”
While liquids, powders and tablets are still top forms for digestive products, the United States has carved out a niche for gummies, chews, bites and cubes: basically confection-inspired forms that aim to make a daily dose of digestive health more fun and tasty. And these fruity and chewy forms aren’t just for kids. Adult digestive gummies are positioned for heartburn, delivering probiotics/prebiotics, and supporting metabolism, among others. Other unique forms include gels/jellies packaged in single serving tubes (think Go-Gurt portable yogurt products) seen in Hong Kong and Germany, gums said to calm the stomach in Poland, Norway and Spain, and a massage spray for babies launched this year in France. We also noted single serve liquid shots of digestive aids, a form seen across the healthcare category.
400 digestive products launched globally since 2012 have been specifically targeted at children. The Children 5-12 claim has stayed steady with launch totals in the upper 30s and low 40s over the time period. Digestive products targeting Babies & Toddlers has declined from 34 in 2012 to only 15 as of September 2017. And the Teenagers claim is rarely seen in this category with only 1 product in the last two years.
Liquid forms are where we see the most growth over the studied time period. Liquid launches positioned for Children 5-12 rose 260%. While there weren’t any chews in 2012, 6 hit the market the following year. Since then, however, the totals have declined with only 1 product in 2017 as of September. (Digestive-focused chews as a whole reached their high mark in 2014 with 28 new products and have since declined, tallying 17 new products as of September. The United States is the clear leader in this format.)
Probiotics and prebiotics are both important for developing and maintaining a healthy gut. According to Mintel, from June 2013 to May 2016, “43% of global probiotic-containing or yeast/ferments-containing healthcare products for children also contained a prebiotic ingredient.” Fructo-oligosacchardies and inulin were the most common prebiotic ingredients found.
Recent scientific studies published by Beneo show chicory root fibers (also known as inulin) “effectively support digestive health, regularity and well-being, making them an important area of focus for food and drink manufacturers” reports Anke Sentko, Beneo vice president of regulatory affairs.
Consumers aren’t shy about digestive health. It is mainstream, with “natural” ingredients at the forefront of their minds. Product developers should be mindful of this desire for “ingredients rooted in the real world” when looking for ways to connect with consumers looking for digestive aids. A majority of gut-focused products are unflavored, leaving the door open for flavor innovation in the category. Rising claims in this market, such as Vegan and GMO-Free, reflect wider trends in the food and beverage industry and are worth a second look.
FONA CAN HELP!
Let FONA’s market insight and research experts translate these trends into product category ideas for your brand. They can help you with concept and flavor pipeline development, ideation, consumer studies and white space analysis to pinpoint opportunities in the market.
Our flavor and product development experts are also at your service to help meet the labeling and flavor profile needs for your products to capitalize on this consumer trend. We understand how to mesh the complexities of flavor with your brand development, technical requirements and regulatory needs to deliver a complete taste solution.
CONTACT OUR SALES SERVICE DEPARTMENT at 630.578.8600 to request a flavor sample or visit www.fona.com.
Sources: Mintel, FoodProcessing.com, healthcare.utah.edu