Gut health leading global health claim

Despite the economic downturn, consumer confusion over the range of products and ingredients available and their benefits, difficulties over claims validation in Europe, interest in food and beverages carrying gut or digestive health claims appears to be continuing unabated, according to Innova Market Insights.


In fact, Innova tracked well over 4,000 launches globally marketed on a gut or digestive health platform in 2009, up from about 2,000 just five years ago. The gut/digestive health sector started to rise to prominence in the 1980s outside Asia, although significant sales were not achieved in the west until well into the next decade. It remains the leading sector in terms of market size and activity in most countries, with the notable exception of the U.S., and even here rapid growth over the past five years has boosted the market considerably.

It is a market that is very difficult to define, with rising awareness of foods traditionally linked with a healthy digestive system, particularly high-fiber foods such as bran and wholegrain bakery and cereal products, combining with the emergence of probiotic foods, most notably dairy products, to create a diverse but dynamic category. Additionally, many of the probiotic products launched in recent years, particularly dose-delivery dairy drinks, have focused on immune defense as much, if not more than, digestive health. With these difficulties in definition, market quantification is also very fraught with problems, but estimates now tend to put the global market for gut health foods and drinks at over $10 billion a year.

Emergence of new-style dairy products, most notably probiotic yogurts and dairy drinks has moved the market forward since their move out of Asia and into the mainstream western markets in the 1990s. Indeed, the dairy sector, notably probiotic products, are now probably most closely associated with the gut health sector. Dairy products accounted for over 40 percent of the gut/digestive health launches recorded by Innova in 2009, although this share was down slightly over 2008, reflecting the wider range of products appearing on the market. Baby food was the next most popular category for using gut health claims, ahead of bakery and cereal products. Europe accounted for a leading one-third of the product launches last year, just ahead of the U.S. at about 28 percent. Innova noted a particularly rapid increase in U.S. product launches, with totals more than trebling since 2005. Interest in the U.S., especially in the dairy sector, has risen sharply over the past five years, particularly since the repositioning of Danone's Activia spoonable yogurt brand more directly on a digestion regulation platform, emphasizing the use of the unique Bifidus ActiRegularis cultures. Sales of the Activia brand are now worth over $2 billion a year globally and the U.S. national launch in early 2006 is credited with virtually single-handedly moving the probiotics market out of the specialist dietary supplements market and into the mainstream yogurt market, heralding a wave of competitive activity from the other U.S. yogurt companies.

Although refrigerated yogurt and dairy drinks are maintaining their profile in terms of product activity in gut and digestive health, there have also been high levels of activity in other areas. Launches over the past year include a range of Digestive Health pasta with probiotics under the Racconto Essentials brand, the extension of the Attune probiotic cereal bar range with probiotic chocolate bars, and the introduction of Yovation frozen yogurts with probiotic cultures. Outside the U.S., there has been an even wider range of activity, with novel products including Yosa organic dairy-free smoothies with oats, fresh fruit and berries and probiotic bacteria. Initially launched by Bioferme in Finland, Sweden and Germany. In Australia, the barleyMax ingredient, by CSIRO and said to be the world's highest fiber wholegrain, made its first appearance on supermarket shelves in Digestive 1st and Protein 1st breakfast cereals from Goodness Superfoods.

"In all regions product activity is still strongly oriented toward the dairy sector, although increasing activity in bakery and cereal products is evident along with signs of growth in other areas of the market," says LuAnn Williams, head of research at Innova.