KANSAS CITY — Digestive health is set to become a significant trend in 2019. Food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers are developing new products and expanding a marketplace that has been evolving during the past decade. What was once a category dominated by fiber and probiotic ingredients is now seeing prebiotics and fermented foods making inroads.

The consultancy New Nutrition Business identified digestive wellness as its No. 1 trend for 2019, and The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, listed gut-healthy foods as one of its five leading trends heading into the new year.

“Medical studies show that a healthy gut is the foundation of overall wellness, and more than ever before, consumers are seeking foods that support self-care and healthy immune systems,” Kroger said.

Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, a business unit of Amazon Inc., also has tapped digestive health as a trend in 2019. In 2017, the retailer identified naturally occurring probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi would be a trend. In 2019, the retailer said probiotics in shelf-stable products will catch consumer attention.

Effi probiotic granola and Goodbelly CrunchybarsNew strains of probiotics such as Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 and Bacillus coagulans MTCC 5856 are making more shelf-stable applications possible, according to Whole Foods. Wellness-focused brands are adding functional probiotic ingredients to consumer’s pantry staples through products like granola, oatmeal, nut butters, soups and nutrition bars.

Products identified as trending include GoodBelly Probiotics Crunchybars and Effi Probiotic Chickpea Granola.

On Nov. 14, the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., introduced Hi! Happy Inside cereal that features fiber, probiotics and prebiotics as ingredients. The company described the new launch as a “wellness brand” and said it is an option for the 92% of adults who say maintaining digestive health is important to their overall health.

“This new cereal provides a proactive real food solution to people who want to incorporate more prebiotics and probiotics into their diet,” said Aleta Chase, a marketing director at Kellogg.

The company is marketing the cereal as a 3-in-1 combination that features 8 grams to 9 grams of fiber, 1 billion colony forming units of probiotic bacteria and 2.5 grams of prebiotics per serving.

A survey of 2,000 consumers conducted by the company in conjunction with The Harris Poll found there is a need for education related to some digestive health ingredients. For example, 29% of those surveyed said they know about probiotics, but only 15% of respondents said they know about prebiotics.

Danone Good Plants yogurtDigestive health is also a key component of Danone S.A.’s innovation pipeline. The company plans to introduce several new plant-based products that leverage probiotics as an ingredient.Future innovation will include such products as Good Plants, which will be sold under the company’s Light & Fit brand and is a plant-based yogurt with probiotics. In the United Kingdom, the company is introducing the Liv brand, which is a shot that is made from oats and features probiotics.

At SupplySide West, which was held Nov. 6-9 in Las Vegas, several suppliers exhibited products and prototypes that targeted the digestive health trend.

“Today’s consumers are more aware of their individualized health and wellness needs,” said Fabiana Bianchi, vice-president of marketing and growth for the Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. “As a result, there’s a high demand for functional food and beverage products in the marketplace.”

DuPont Nutrition & Health, a business unit of DowDuPont, Wilmington, Del., exhibited several ingredients that may promote digestive health, including the company’s Howaru Protect Prenatal+, a probiotic designed to support the immune health of mother and baby. The company also offered Care4u, a human milk oligosaccharide that supports digestive, immune and cognitive development in formula-fed infants.

DuPont Danisco Vege CulturesUnder its Danisco brand, DuPont Nutrition & Health introduced Vege Cultures during the show. The ingredients are intended to help product developers overcome the taste and texture challenges related to creating plant-based alternative products. The cultures are based on the probiotics Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.

“Vege Cultures are specific to plant-based fermented opportunities,” said Gregory L. Paul, marketing director of global consumer segments for DuPont Nutrition & Health. “We made a step change into the market and are meeting the demands for allergen free, dairy free, soy free, non-G.M.O., kosher and halal certified.”

Mr. Paul said new product launches into the space are growing at 40% annually and there is a “big uptick” in fermented plant-based offerings.

“The majority of beverages fall into the non-dairy drinkable yogurts,” he said. “We see a lot of white space in beverages and beyond beverages into other plant-based products.”

In its list of the leading trends heading into 2019, the Specialty Foods Association, New York, highlighted fermented functional beverages as a trending product category. The association said drinking vinegars and kvas, which are fermented grain beverages, are emerging beverage categories to watch.

Harvest Soul probiotic beveragesKerry, Beloit, Wis., which acquired the probiotic maker Ganeden Biotech in late 2017, sees significant growth opportunity in the digestive health market. A white paper published by the company forecasts the global probiotics market to grow to $64 billion by 2022. Functional foods and beverages are the largest segment of that total, with $38 billion in future sales.

Don Cox, director of research and development for Wellmune and Ganeden BC30 within Kerry’s Functional Ingredients and Actives business unit, said education will play a role in category growth.

“The average consumer is hearing about the benefits of probiotics, but they don’t have a deeper understanding,” he said. “Category growth is going to come from education and meeting the consumer where they are buying products.

“New product categories may include convenience stores, where people have a growing tendency to look for something that has benefits; they want to feel good about their purchase. They are looking for something savory and crunchy, for example, and we need to meet them with cheese puffs made with BC30 or a trail mix.”

Mr. Cox identified nutrition bars as another growth category.

“Busy professionals don’t have time to stop for a meal,” he said. “Probiotic innovation in nutrition bars gives them the option of having a snack with health benefits.”

Udi's ancient grain probiotic granola barsHe added that a key to future growth in the market for digestive health will be sound research that provides a foundation into the efficacy and quality of probiotics.

“There is a value chain of sorts in the efficacy of ingredients,” he said. “Research into Ganeden BC30 has been going on for well over a decade. These are well designed, well executed studies that answer questions about the benefits of probiotics. It’s these studies that will demonstrate efficacy and help grow the market.”