64% of consumers want to improve or address their digestive health by using supplements.
When the body’s gastrointestinal system goes off-kilter, it can manifest as a variety of frustrating symptoms, such as gas, bloat, constipation, abdominal discomfort, heartburn, and diarrhea, as well as broad health complaints including fatigue, brain fog, and lowered immunity. Alarmingly, more adults are struggling with digestive health issues than ever before. A survey from the American Gastroenterological Association reveals that nearly 40% of Americans have stopped doing routine activities such as exercising, running errands, and spending time with loved ones due to GI symptoms.
“Poor digestive health is a very common issue that can significantly impact quality of life on a daily basis,” says Stacey Daigle, Vice President of Marketing, Sale Ops. & Int’l, NutriScience Innovations, LLC. “Increased stress related to work, family obligations, and global issues can all exacerbate digestive health issues. As these stressors continue to grow and people find themselves constantly on the go, they are often left to make unhealthy food choices as well; the fast food that many turn to for a quick meal is often highly processed and devoid of fiber and therefore unlikely to help our already-strained digestive systems.”
Consumers are turning to natural options for digestive health. “The digestive health sector is evolving, marked by changing consumer behaviors and a growing recognition of the interplay between gut health and overall well-being, encompassing physical, mental and emotional aspects,” notes Vaughn DuBow, Global Director of Marketing, Microbiome Solutions, ADM. “Consequently, consumers are adopting a more proactive approach to support their gut, digestion, and holistic health by selecting specific functional foods, beverages and dietary supplements. Globally, 64% of consumers want to improve or address their digestive health by using supplements, which is up from 49% in 2020. Plus, 56% of consumers worldwide are actively seeking food and beverage products that support digestive health.”
This has led to a boom in the digestive health market: Grand View Research reports that the digestive health market is expected to reach $89.9 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 8.2%.
Top Trends in the Digestive Space
Probiotics continue to lead the way in the category. In 2022, SPINS reported that probiotic supplements showed 18% year-over-year growth. For a deeper dive into the category, view the Microbiome Market Trends presentation by SPINS at the Naturally Informed event Microbiome: Mastering the Market, available on demand at NaturallyInformed.net.
There are many natural options for digestive care. For support, consumers understand the benefits of feeding beneficial bacteria. “The fermentation of indigestible fibers causes the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that can be used by the body as a nutrient source but also play an important role in muscle function and possibly the prevention of chronic diseases, including certain cancers and bowel disorders,” says Hank Cheatham, Vice President, Daiwa Health Development. “Clinical studies have shown that SCFA may be useful in the treatment of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.”
As consumers become more aware of the benefits of prebiotic fiber, this sector is skyrocketing, says Jason Minear, Executive Vice President of Sales, HealthPlus, Inc. “Fiber sales are up in 2023 and it doesn’t look to be slowing down. However, expect challenges around psyllium husk cost and supply over the next 18 months. I anticipate more growth and awareness around butyrate and starch-resistant fibers.” This offers retailers the opportunity to highlight benefits of other products such as guar gum.
There’s also room for ingredients beyond fiber and live cultures, says Rob Brewster, President, Ingredients by Nature. “There are botanical ingredients with scientific data demonstrating their beneficial effects for improved digestive health.”
For instance, polyphenols and other antioxidants have digestive health benefits, says Randy Kreienbrink, Vice President of Sales, Artemis International. “Polyphenols have been shown in studies to promote the growth of probiotics. Akkermansia muciniphila is a type of bacteria found in the gut and it’s been getting a lot of press for its association with leanness and general health.”
Ingredients that target bad bacteria also show growth potential, says Andy Hewitt, Marketing Manager, Proliant Health & Biologicals. “We’ve seen a big push from brands utilizing antibodies for their gut health supplements and expect that to continue to boom in 2024. The focus on removing the bad bacteria from our gut has grown exponentially, with many companies utilizing antibodies like Immunolin, colostrum, and IgY in their products. Historically, brands have focused on feeding the good bacteria in our gut, but that doesn’t address the underlying cause of the issues—inflammatory bacteria. These antibodies target, bind, and remove those bacteria.” In terms of antibodies, Hewitt says Immunolin offers the highest concentration on the market, having previously been a prescription-only option for people with IBS, IBD, and a number of other gut health concerns.
While microbiome support has been in the spotlight, it is just one aspect of digestive health. “As people age, they may experience decreased digestive efficiency, reduced production of digestive enzymes, and other age-related changes,” says Paul Hyso, Marketing Manager, Lily of the Desert. “Enzyme supplements containing amylase, lipase, and protease can aid in the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These supplements can be beneficial in such cases. Certain herbs like ginger, peppermint, and fennel are also known for their digestive benefits.”
Also key: Stock options that address digestive-adjacent areas, says Rajat Shah, Co-Founder, Nutriventia. “Digestion is not an isolated system nor function. It can be considered as a core that is both impacted by and impacts other aspects of wellness. According to FMCG Gurus, 67% of global consumers recognized the link between good digestive health and overall health; and 68% knew that digestive and immune health were tied together; 40% were aware that good sleep had favorable impacts on digestion.”
Consumers also know stress impacts GI health, adds Nirmal Nair, CEO & Founder, Sempera Organics. “When stress is high, stomach griping, gas, cramping and diarrhea/frequent loose stools often results. We see that high stress is affecting digestive efficiency, disrupting the microbiome. This tie-in with stress management is critical to growth in the digestive health category.”
Retailers are in a sweet spot to point toward the solutions that can help address specific issues, but success hinges on being able to effectively communicate with customers. “Ensure your staff is knowledgeable about the products you offer,” stresses Hyso. “Well-informed employees can help customers make informed decisions and provide recommendations based on individual needs. Consider offering personalized consultations, either in-store or virtually, where customers can discuss their digestive health concerns and receive tailored product recommendations.”
Ingredients That Foster A Healthy, Happy Gut
In addition to the helpers noted above, experts point to:
Aloe Vera: The juice of this tropical plant helps to maintain a healthy pH balance of stomach acid, which can ease symptoms of acid reflux and indigestion, says Hyso. He notes that sipping aloe vera juice like Lily of the Desert Aloe Herbal Stomach Formula after a meal can also reduce inflammation of mucous membranes in the stomach and bowels, and promote regularity.
Ashwagandha. This adaptogen can help the body better adapt and respond to stress, helping to ease stress-related digestive issues. Shah, who offers the branded extract Prolanza, notes, “The results of one placebo-controlled 90-day study showed that participants who consumed sustained-release Prolanza exhibited higher Oxford Happiness Questionnaire score and improved Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score, suggesting that ‘significantly lower stress levels and significantly better psychological well-being and sleep quality.”
Black Elderberry. “Polyphenols in dark-pigmented fruits and vegetables are nature’s own food colorings, and Akkermansia loves them,” notes Kreienbrink. He points out that the European black elderberry is a particularly rich source of polyphenols, and an extract of this fruit (branded as ElderCraft) has been shown in a human clinical to have significant prebiotic benefits. Products including this ingredient provide multiple benefits.
Citrus flavonoids: Compounds in citrus fruits (branded as Eriomin from Ingredients By Nature) have been shown to support gut health, says Brewster. “Two studies back Eriomin’s ability to produce short-chain fatty acids and help remove the ‘bad’ bacteria for an improved microbiota.” In one study, subjects given Eriomen and the diabetes drug Metformin showed improvements in levels of two beneficial bacteria strains, Bacteroides and Subdoligranulum bacteria. “The second human clinical trial demonstrated that Eriomin improved prediabetes microbiota and could attenuate intestinal dysbiosis with just 200mg/day after 12 weeks of supplementation,” adds Brewster. “Of additional importance, Eriomin decreased the study volunteers’ fasting blood glucose by 6.5% and increased GLP-1 incretin by 22%, which may have a positive impact on weight management.”
Immunoglobulins (IgG): Branded as Immulin, this antibody works to target, bind and remove bad-acting bacteria in the gut, says Hewitt. “There continues to be new science coming out demonstrating Immulin’s ability to bind and remove a host of bad bacteria, a list of more than 40 antigens, including Candida, H. pylori, Gliadin, and even LPS, which makes up more than 60% of the bad bacteria found in our gut.” This ingredient can be found in a range of products, including Daiwa GastroImmune.
Functional proteins: Proteins such as Prolactin may help heal the gut lining and reduce gut inflammation, says Maya Ashkenazi Otmazgin, Founder & CEO, Maolac. “These proteins have the potential to provide holistic support to gut health, enhance the functionality of gut tissue itself, interfere with biological cascades to reduce inflammation, and promote a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria to thrive, thereby ensuring long-term health and balance.” Maolac offers AI-driven bio-functional proteins from natural dairy or plant-based sources, that target specific conditions, such as gut inflammation. “To ensure high performance, we also enrich only such proteins that exhibit high bio-similarity to functional proteins found in human breast milk—the gold standard of human nutrition,” Ashkenazi Otmazgin says. “Furthermore, we employ a proprietary delivery system that mimics the protein’s natural structure to ensure its bioactivity.”
Functional mushrooms. Polysaccharides in mushrooms like turkey tail, reishi, chaga and shiitake act as a prebiotic in the gut, notes Nair. “Our unique mushroom blend, Biome Core, contains polysaccharides, which provide food for the bacteria residing in the gut, which in turn, produce compounds such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that revitalize the intestinal mucosa to help balance and normalize digestive function. Another hallmark of stress-induced digestive insufficiency is high inflammation, and reishi is known to reduce the inflammatory response.” Nair says mushroom coffee is trending, and is an easy, indulgent way to get digestive health support.
Melatonin. Getting a good night’s sleep can support digestive health, Shah points out. Melotime is Nutriventia’s sustained-release melatonin, releasing systematically during eight hours of sleep for peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.
Probiotics: Colonizing the gut with beneficial bacteria is a priority for fostering good digestive health, and there are a few specific strains that are particularly beneficial, notes DuBow. For instance, ADM’s ES1 (Bifidobacterium longum CECT7347) has been shown to support a healthy gut, and it’s offered as a heat-treated postbiotic, so formulators don’t have to make adaptations for live colony forming units (CFUs). ADM also offers BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT8145) probiotic and its heat-treated postbiotic counterpart, which target factors relevant to metabolic health, which is an important element to overall gut health.
“Spore-forming probiotics represent the next frontier of microbiome-supporting solutions,” adds DuBow. “A groundbreaking study demonstrates that ADM’s spore-forming probiotic, DE111 (Bacillus subtilis) can germinate in the small intestine, as it can survive gastric transit and the harsh conditions of the stomach and bile salts.”
Prebiotic fiber. The benefits of fiber go beyond feeding beneficial gut bacteria, notes Alina Slotnik, VP of Bioactives, Brightseed. “Nutrients recently published a study co-authored by Brightseed researchers and the University of Minnesota that highlights the value of insoluble dietary fiber. Beyond providing digestive health and regularity benefits, the study shows that insoluble fiber is packed with bioactives. A total of 64 bioactive compounds were detected across the insoluble fiber sources that appeared in the research. They fell into three categories—phenolic acids, flavonoids, and non-flavonoid compounds—and each offers a unique health benefit beyond those of the fiber itself.”
Most consumers don't get enough fiber, says Slotnik. “There is a fiber gap—95% of Americans don’t receive the recommended daily intake of fiber. While most Americans aren’t meeting daily fiber recommendations, they still see fiber as an effective gut health ingredient. Consumers will be on the lookout for products to help them meet their goals, like functional foods with fiber.”
However, not all fibers are created equally, cautions Michael LeLah, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, NutriScience Innovations, LLC. When choosing fibers, it’s important to be able to communicate the difference between certain fibers. “Consumers may understand fiber as a prebiotic, but don’t understand the differences between slow fermenting fibers which reduce gas and discomfort such as Sunfiber, and the more common fast fermenting fibers such as inulin, which are less desirable.”
3 Fiber Sources to Know:
Corn: Fibersol, a prebiotic dietary fiber derived from corn, helps promote the growth of gut microbes that have been positively associated with digestive health, says DuBow. “At 3.75 grams per serving, a clinical study found Fibersol may help nourish the intestinal flora and support the intestinal tract environment, supporting impactful on-pack prebiotic claims.”
Guar gum: Made from partially hydrolyzed guar fiber, Sunfiber is an invisible powder that dissolves easily in water or other beverages to help consumers meet their fiber goals. For an extra digestive health boost, NutriScience combines its guar fiber with the amino acid tributyrin, a precursor to the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, in an ingredient branded as ButyraGen. “ButyraGen isn’t affected by the state of the microbiome and instead generates butyrate directly in the small intestine at a low dose and with less gas. It then acts on things like gut permeability and affects the downstream microbiome,” explains Dr. Lelah. “This novel butyrate generator is technically neither a prebiotic, probiotic, postbiotic, synbiotic or parabiotic—but nevertheless presents a new opportunity for brands to diversify their product portfolio and bring in new consumer interest.”
Hemp hulls: Brightseed offers an insoluble dietary fiber derived from upcycled hemp hulls (branded as BioGut Fiber), says Slotnik. “Bio Gut Fiber contains two unique bioactives NCT (N-trans-caffeoyl tyramine) and NCT (N-trans-feruloyl tyramine) that show promise to help support the strength of the gut epithelial lining.”
4 Keys to Sales Success
1) Highlight the science. “Consumers are interested in not only how but also why products improve gut health,” notes Slotnik. “Retailers can better market their digestive health supplements and support purchase decisions by providing more information on the latter at the POS, such as showcasing novel formats, new ways ingredients target digestive health, and research backing of a product or ingredient.”
For example, try showcasing the results of a recently published study that demonstrated benefits to the consumer in an easy-to-read or simple-graphic-visual format on in-store signs or social media, offers Dr. LeLah. “Marketing must convey the direct benefit to the consumer such as reduced gas, less discomfort, better stool regularity, etc.”
2) Stock quality products. “The last couple years have brought about a number of digestive health supplements that tout a variety of claims, many which may or may not be substantiated and usually aren’t,” cautions Hewitt. “Ultimately, this marketing might work in the short term, but as we’ve seen in the past with a variety of flashy products with promises, they don’t last and don’t offer the data to back their claims because they don’t have it. Now is as important of a time as any to remind people that efficacy and real, meaningful data matter when it comes to having a tangible impact on your overall health, which all begins in the gut.”
Keeping your shelves stocked with products that offer third-party testing and clean label ingredients is a good first step in fostering customer trust and loyalty, adds Hyso. “Consumers are increasingly seeking supplements with clean and natural ingredients. Companies that focus on transparency and quality in their products are likely to perform well.”
3) Think convenience. “In terms of innovations, retailers should keep an eye out for emerging delivery formats such as chewable probiotics, gummies, or advanced encapsulation techniques that make supplements more appealing and easier to consume,” recommends Minear. He sees growth potential for fiber-enriched snacks like crackers and granola bars as well as indulgences like cookies and ice cream.
4) Be smart about influencers. “Consumers flock to influencers, whom consumers expect to vet products, but this is not necessarily the case,” says Dr. Lelah. “A better approach is for brands to align with and educate influencers who, when armed with good science, can then better communicate with consumers and impact demand.” WF