Kombucha, a fermented beverage
More consumers are finding out they can get probiotics from kombucha, a fermented beverage.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Convincing people to focus on digestive health every day, and not just when issues arise, looks like an opportunity for makers of foods, beverages and dietary supplements. Companies also might target messages to consumers by age group and expand probiotic ingredients into other product categories besides yogurt and supplements, according to speakers in an April 29 presentation at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando.

Many consumers may wait until they have digestive issues to add probiotics to their diet, said Steve French, managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa.

“That is not a solution,” he said. “It is an ongoing everyday maintenance of your physiological system that you need.”

For example, probiotics help in healing the gut, said Heather Granato, vice-president, content, for the Global Health & Nutrition Network, a business of London-based Informa Group, P.L.C.

Heather Granato, vice-president, content, for the Global Health & Nutrition Network
Heather Granato, vice-president of content for the Global Health & Nutrition Network

“Understand that the gut is your second brain,” she said. “You can heal your gut and have more energy. It helps with weight loss. It helps with mental focus.”

The Natural Marketing Institute and Informa collaborated on a study that analyzed six areas: probiotics, digestive health, weight management, omega-3 fatty acids, sports nutrition/performance and protein. They surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults and 92 ingredient suppliers.

The study showed 29% of Americans use products to help manage digestive health. The percentages varied little among the age groups of baby boomers (30%), millennials (29%), matures (28%) and Generation X (27%).

Reasons for taking digestive-aiding products may vary by age group.

“The reason millennials are engaged in the market is because they want to do their best in today’s competitive environment in whatever they’re doing — school, work and play,” Mr. French said.

Baby boomers and matures may have different reasons for consuming products for digestive benefits.

“They are much more likely to be managing specific issues,” Mr. French said. “So it’s not about this level of competitiveness. Some deal with prevention. Some deal with treatment.”

The digestion category contains several sub categories: constipation, acid reflex, intestinal regularity, heartburn, indigestion, irritable bowel/diarrhea and ulcers. A disconnect exists between what people seek and what ingredient suppliers promote through claims and benefits, Mr. French said.

The study found people rank constipation as the No. 1 reason for consuming products with digestive benefits, but constipation ranked No. 4 on the suppliers’ list. Consumers put acid reflex at No. 2, but it was No. 5 on the suppliers’ list, which had intestinal irregularity at No. 1.

The study showed people rank digestive health as the No. 1 reason for consuming probiotics, but suppliers ranked digestive health as No. 3. Overall health was No. 1 on the suppliers’ probiotic list and immune health was No. 2. People ranked overall health No. 2 and immune health No. 5.

Steve French, managing partner for the Natural Marketing Institute
Reasons for taking products to help manage digestion may vary by age group, said Steve French, managing partner for the Natural Marketing Institute.

Mr. French said suppliers, when deciding how to position a product, should focus on what’s more important from a consumer standpoint. When developing a framework for clinical activity in a new product pipeline, suppliers again should focus on consumer need.

The study found that among people who consume products with probiotics, 69% ate yogurt, ranking first. Vitamins and supplements placed second at 64%. Ms. Granato said a need for probiotics in more products in other categories exists because people may develop yogurt fatigue or pill fatigue. Also, consuming probiotics through yogurt alone might cause people to consume too much sugar and gain weight, she said.

Kombucha, a fermented beverage, is rising as a probiotic provider. Among people who consume products with probiotics, 13% are using kombucha. Among that 13%, 64% are using kombucha more often than they were a year ago.

“I’ve seen kombucha for a while,” Ms. Granato said. “I was wondering how the messaging was going to be perceived by consumers because I don’t think they necessarily really understand what (kombucha) is, but the message has gotten to them that it is good for you and it contains probiotics. It is healthy for your gut.