Linking digestive health with immunity

by Allison Gibeson
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Through aggressive market-

ing efforts of companies such as The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., digestive health has become a functional food trend to which consumers have responded. The next challenge facing marketers in the category is reaching a broader demographic by linking the benefits of digestive health to immune system support.

“There has really been a move in terms of digestive health the past couple of years — it started first in Europe, and I’m starting to see it a little bit here as well — where people are making the link between digestive health and immunity,” said Sara Staley, vice-president of business development at FrieslandCampina Domo. “A lot of our ingredients are focusing more on that platform now.”

Among other products, FrieslandCampina Domo, Amersfoort, The Netherlands, produces Vivinal, a prebiotic used in infant formulas, dairy products, juices and more.

Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, said when it comes to what consumers are looking for in digestive health products, the first thing they think of is fiber followed by probiotics. Even though consumers may not be clear on what probiotics are, they generally understand the concept. Regularity is the top benefit consumers look for in digestive health products, and she said consumers are not yet equating digestive health to include preventive measures for colon cancer.

Ms. Badaracco said while consumers may not completely believe all the digestive health claims being made, they believe the claims more than other types of claims. Additionally, even if the product doesn’t yield all of the benefits it claims consumers believe the product can’t hurt and may still provide some level of benefit.

“You need a supply of products that meets people’s lifestyles and needs,” Ms. Staley said. “Not everyone eats yogurt and not everyone takes a supplement, so you have to look at some other options.”

In Europe digestive health products are marketed with an overall halo of well-being and general immune support, she said. As a result, European

consumers became aware of the link between digestive health and immunity. She said the connection doesn’t have to be explained in much depth.

Communicating how digestive health is related to immunity is difficult, but the concern caused by the outbreak of the H1N1 virus in 2009 led to an increased interest in products that support the immune system, Ms. Badaracco said. Manufacturers need to keep their messaging tight and simple in their explanation, she added.

When it comes to avoiding challenges from regulatory authorities, Ms. Staley said it’s important for food and beverage manufacturers not to claim to cure, prevent or reduce the instance of a disease and to focus advertising on generally being healthier. “Even though there are benefits, you just generally talk about immune support and that’s how you manage it from a regulatory viewpoint,” Ms. Staley said. “I think the key thing is to find a proper platform, a way of getting these products

to people so they can consume them on a daily basis and help their bodies do a better job.”

Despite regulatory issues, Ms. Badaracco said companies will continue to introduce digestive health products. But she said the F.D.A. is looking at claims closely so companies need to be aware, and enforcement of existing regulations is going to be stepped up.

Ms. Staley said many digestive health products are targeted at women, and there is an opportunity for manufacturers to expand their reach by marketing to the whole family through women, who tend to be the

primary shoppers. Ms. Badaracco also said baby boomers and young children are often marketed to with digestive health, but there is an opportunity to market more to consumers in the age groups in the middle.

The market will expand from just digestive health to emphasize complementary aspects and ingredients of digestive health, immunity and even calcium absorption, Ms. Staley said.

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