Prebiotics and probiotics have hit the mainstream consumer market. Today’s consumers are more educated than ever before on the gut microbiome’s influence on overall health.
Digestive care supplements and food product sales continue to skyrocket. According to Michele McRae, certified nutritionist at supplement manufacturer Rainbow Light in California, “Even mainstream grocery and big box stores now carry supplements which support digestion and food products which have been enhanced with dietary ingredients that benefit digestion.”
“U.S. sales of probiotic supplements and products are growing steadily, totaling $1.4 billion in 2014 and are expected to reach $3.1 billion in 2020,” said Patricia Pirrie, digestive category manager for NOW Health Group in Illinois. “The U.S. prebiotic ingredients market was worth $227.8 million in 2014 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.1 percent from 2014 to 2020,” she added.
Tim Gamble, president and CEO of Neutraceutix in Washington, is witnessing a similar trend. “We are still seeing strong interest in probiotics, particularly in North America, and our business for probiotic ingredients and finished probiotic dietary supplements continues to grow at a steady pace,” he said.
Daina Trout, CEO and founder of Health-Ade Kombucha in California agrees. “The current state of the probiotic market is that it is exploding,” he remarked. “When you look at it from two years ago, there is significant positive change. People are seeking out probiotics. There are two categories increasing: supplement probiotic market, which I can’t speak to, and the holistic probiotic market—probiotics that exist in foods naturally. Some of those would be anything fermented and raw—specifically kombucha. That market is more than quadrupling every year.”
According to Gamble, today’s consumer is better informed. “The questions from consumers and healthcare providers are transitioning from ‘What good are probiotics?’ to ‘What makes a good probiotic?’ People are increasingly comfortable and willing to add probiotic supplements to their daily regimen, so their choices are becoming better and better educated about quality and potential efficacy of the actual form,” he said.
This is “mainly due to widespread media attention given to digestive health in recent years,” added Pirrie. “Formulas containing both pre- and probiotics are especially popular in today’s market.”
The consumer demographics researchers have found as most likely to purchase pre- and probiotic products, cited Pirrie, are the over 55 age group (which will account for 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2019) and women 18-40. Tallene Jones, owner of DC Natural Foods in Idaho Falls, ID, has noticed that the majority of her customers are middle-aged (in the 40-55 age group), “but older generations come in too,” she added.
What’s Driving Consumer Use?
Americans are seeking relief for digestive issues for a multitude of reasons, Pirrie said. “A number of environmental factors contribute to digestive discomfort, such as chronic stress, age, poor nutrition habits and travel,” she continued. “One major concern is the poor quality of the standard American diet. For many years, we have steadily increased our consumption of processed food, which is more difficult to digest than whole foods. Another important issue is how our gut function becomes less efficient as we age,” she added.
Industry trends are supporting this view. “Digestives are ranked as a top condition-specific category according to Sloan Trends 2014,” McRae noted. “This can be attributed to the fact that there are many people that suffer from daily digestive problems—in fact nine out of 10 Americans deal with some type of digestive issue annually.
“Overall,” she continued, “consumers are moving away from over-the-counter and prescription options to more natural options. A poll from 2013 showed that sales of over-the-counter antacid products are down, and this is believed to be partially due to users continuing to experience symptoms with use and from the side effects of those products. Consumers are looking for more natural options for long-term use without side effects.”
Consumer buying practices are revealing their knowledge of new research findings and specific applications for use outside of digestive. According to Jones, “Customers coming into the store are looking for prebiotics to help build existing flora, and probiotics for after surgeries, the flu, yeast or fungal problems, and to help raise the immune system.”
“With the mainstream marketing of probiotic products, plus media coverage of research and benefits, people are more aware than ever of their benefit,” said Marci Clow, MS, RD, senior nutritionist at Rainbow Light.
Gamble concurred, “Consumers are looking to improve their health and wellness and help increase resistance to illnesses. They are also paying attention to the wealth of research, which suggests that properly produced and delivered (to the body) probiotics may be effective in addressing unique conditions. As consumers take a preventative approach and seek natural solutions, probiotics will continue to feature prominently in what becomes the average consumer’s supplementation choices.”
“The biggest driving factor for usage is that consumers respond well to products that make a difference in the way that they feel,” added Clow.
Taste and delivery systems are also factoring into choice. “People are busy and on the go, but for the first time in a long time they want to treat their bodies well and are looking for foods that are healthy, convenient and taste good,” said Trout.
Natural Foods’ Jones prefers “a liquid for post-flu application and an enteric-coated type for regular day use,” as she finds it works better. Some of her customers buy for their children and in these cases “chewables are the most desired type,” she said. Price point matters. As a retailer, Jones said the two most important factors in selecting what probiotic supplements they carry are, “how many bacteria per capsule and the price range suitable for their customer base.” Her request to manufacturers is, “reduce the price per bacteria count, so they are more affordable for customers to use on a regular basis.” She said price is her customers’ biggest complaint. “And instead of targeting huge issues, make a simple affordable product for daily maintenance,” she suggested.
Research Shows Efficacy
As for the latest research guiding new formulations and consumer selections: what we know, Clow outlined, is “A healthy gut microflora contributes to overall health and vitality by promoting optimum digestion, assimilation, gut integrity, motility and efficient removal of toxins and wastes. Probiotics are naturally occurring friendly bacteria that are integral to a healthy digestive system and, when taken daily, promote regularity, ease gas and bloating, and can increase vitality and boost a healthy immune system.”
“Probiotics are typically used in cases when a disease occurs, or might occur, due to depleted normal flora. For example, treatment with antibiotics can kill off pathogenic bacteria and also the normal flora of the gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts. Altering the normal flora allows for potential colonization by pathogenic organisms, which can result in side effects such as diarrhea and cramping. Taking probiotics might prevent or minimize normal flora depletion and pathogenic bacteria colonization,” she added.
When it comes to prebiotics, Clow said, “Prebiotics are thought to help promote probiotic colonization and growth by ‘feeding’ the good bacteria in your system. Research has shown that some prebiotics enhance the growth of lactic bacteria, especially Bifidobacteria, and inhibit the growth of a variety of undesirable organisms.”
Gamble pointed to two research studies showing the efficacy of specific formulations of Neutraceutix probiotics. In one study entitled, “Daily ingestion of a nutritional probiotic supplement enhances innate immune function in healthy adults” use of the company’s Immunobiotix probiotic caplets resulted in “a statistically significant increase in percent phagocytic monocytes and neutrophils” over an eight-week treatment period. This was “one of the first (studies) to explore the immune effects of daily ingestion of viable, pure, delayed release probiotic nutritional supplements,” the results summary stated.
A second clinical study performed by a German diabetes center discovered that, “the daily ingestion of Nutraceutix’s L. reuteri probiotic enriches human gut microbiota and modifies gut production of protein factors that increase insulin secretion.” The primary researcher concluded, “Probiotic treatment may improve incretin-mediated beta-cell function, which could be beneficial for the treatment of glucose intolerance or overt type 2 diabetes.”
McRae cited research studies, which have explored the clinical use of probiotics for a range of applications including: the reduction of symptoms of diarrhea from viral infections in children, ulcerative colitis and inflammatory cytokines, irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms during antibiotic therapy for eradication of Helicobacter; treatment of constipation; the administration of streptococcus thermophiles or lactobacillus casei to improve lactose tolerance and digestion; and, women’s issues such as reducing the incidence of UTI and vaginal infections, candidiasis and help in treatment of recurrent thrush.
Pirrie shared, “Some studies show the maintenance of the healthy microbiota (community of microbes) in health subjects undergoing antibiotic therapy. A Cochrane Review found that probiotics in general have significant effects on upper respiratory health.” Natural probiotic foods such as Kombucha are “generally recognized as safe and there are some anecdotal small studies around it,” said Trout. “The idea is once you replenish your gut with all it needs, your body tends to fix itself where it is broken.”
Making Formulas Effective
Delivery systems, strain selection for specific applications, stability of the organisms and shelf-life are some of the key considerations being addressed by manufacturers.
“From a formulator’s perspective, stability is one of the biggest formulation challenges when using probiotics,” said McRae. “There are many products which do not only require refrigeration, but also lose their potency rapidly over time. Most probiotic products are labeled with the level of probiotics only guaranteed at time of manufacture. Rainbow Light utilizes a multi-function probiotic strain, Bacillus coagulans, also sometimes referred to as Lactobacillus sporogenes. This strain has a naturally occurring protective microencapsulation ‘coating’ allowing full activity throughout the shelf-life without refrigeration.
“This particular strain has been extensively researched for a broad array of digestive and immune discomforts including occasional diarrhea, urgency, constipation, gas and bloating,” she continued. “Because of the sporulated probiotic strain used in Rainbow Light products, the probiotic activity is guaranteed throughout the shelf life of the product.”
Rainbow Light’s products target digestive health. “Rainbow Light has long viewed digestion as the foundation of health and includes balanced digestive support in almost every product—prebiotics, probiotics, plant-source enzymes and/or digestive herbs,” emphasized McRae.
In addition to providing both pre- and probiotics in one source, Rainbow Light’s Probiolicious Gummies tackle the ‘taste good’ requirement, she said. These cranberry flavored gummies have 1 billion colony forming units (CFU) of Lactobacillus sporogenes per serving, and are sweetened with fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin. A ProbioActive 1B product is encapsulated with one billion colony forming units (CFU) of Lactobacillus sporogenes per serving and “a calming botanical blend of ginger, peppermint, fennel and turmeric helps to alleviate gas, bloating and other stomach discomforts,” added McRae. She said Rainbow Light is one of the few companies to provide multivitamins with probiotics.
Pirrie of NOW Foods stated, “Probiotics are especially susceptible to heat, air, light and moisture. It’s important for manufacturers to adopt the best formulations and processing methods to increase both stability and shelf life. They must also create products that survive beyond the stomach to the intestinal tract where digestive health products are needed most.”
NOW is identifying and utilizing clinically validated bacterial strains. “There are specific effects of probiotics, but while some probiotic strains or substrains have their own specific potential health benefits, no single probiotic has all the health benefits proposed for probiotics in general. In order to assure efficacy, the strain must be properly identified, have good technological properties—such as being naturally resistant to stomach acid, pepsin, bile, and pancreatin—and have proven health benefits,” said Pirrie.
In fact, “Whenever possible, NOW chooses to purchase trademarked ingredients, and we identify these ingredients on product labels and marketing support materials,” Pirrie said. “Two such ingredients are “BLIS K12 which contains the naturally occurring probiotic organism Streptococcus salivarius which has been clinically shown to support oral and throat health; and NutraFlora FOS, a non-digestible carbohydrate which aids the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria such as Bifidus and Acidophilus.”
NOW’s line of digestive products include both pre- and probiotics for adults and children. Some products target relief for specific health conditions such as “urinary tract health, seasonal immune response, GI (gastrointestinal) regularity, reduced bloating, mouth and throat health, bad breath, occasional diarrhea, and help while traveling.” Probiotic-10 25 Billion—50 Veg Capsules “have been clinically validated for their support of healthy immune system function” while Probiotic-10 100 Billion Restorative Care 30 Veg Capsules “help restore healthy flora following occasional but temporary disruptions to intestinal balance.”
For a prebiotic, Pirrie recommends the Certified Organic Inulin Powder (8-oz.) which can be added to a food or beverage. Inulin is a fructooligosaccharide and “since it also has a very low glycemic index, it is suitable for many people who are on restricted diets.” Manufacturer Nutraceutix “offers a unique combination of experience, expertise and patented processes and technologies that have advanced the standard for what is considered a top-notch probiotic supplement. It is this combination of processes, technologies and registered GMP (good manufacturing practices) manufacturing that has set Nutraceutix apart and made us many global brands’ probiotic expert and partner,” said Gamble.
“Neutraceutix produces about two dozen different natural probiotic organisms in bulk form, and formulates and manufactures outstanding probiotic dietary supplements from its own organisms or those from third parties,” added Gamble. “Neutraceutix is recognized around the world for having pioneered advancements in the state-of-the-art for probiotic dietary supplements which include the patented BIO-tract delivery system, among other formats.” What’s unique about Nutraceutix’ custom delivery systems and potency enhancements is their ability to help achieve “extended, controlled and multi-zone protection and release of active ingredients,” he added.
Health-Ade Kombucha takes another approach to probiotics delivery. “Kombucha is not considered a supplement or medicine—it is food,” emphasized Trout. “Health-Ade exists to make the best tasting and highest quality kombucha you can buy on a commercial shelf, and we are committed to bringing real healthy food to the grocery aisle. “Only cold-pressed juice from organic produce for flavoring, the glass bottles which help with the process, and how we make it” is what makes us different, said Trout.
“The way we manufacture is extremely unique,” she added. We don’t carbonate, we don’t pasteurize, and we don’t force-ferment, which leads nature to dictate when the fermentation process is over. This is 100 percent the old school way of doing it ever since kombucha first came out 2,000 years ago—100 percent natural, healthy, high in B12, probiotics, ready to go, and makes you feel good!” Health-Ade Kombucha drinks are available in nine flavors.
Recommendations for Retailers
Gamble’s suggested keys to look for in buying or promoting a probiotic are, “Stick to traditional, natural probiotics long associated with health benefits and avoid fad or fringe organisms. Seek products that, by quality manufacturing processes and technologies, can support and demonstrate good stability/ shelf-life through distribution to store shelves and to the medicine cabinet. Prioritize products that offer optimized delivery to proper locations in the digestive tract by being produced using proven, state-of-the-art delivery technologies to heighten effectiveness.”
“The best advice for retailers is to direct the consumer to a trusted brand that gives consumers enough information on the label to allow their own buying decision,” recommended McRae. “The verbal interface at the point of sale is an important exchange because it helps guide consumers to the supplement products that are well suited for their individual need.”
Clow added, “While a retailer may feel enthusiastic about a particular supplement … eagerness must be limited to what you can say under the law. All retailers should check out the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Roadmap for Retailers: www.cnusa.org/ roadmap/ crn-roadmap-retailers0111.pdf.”
Pirrie proposed that, “When shopping for pre- and probiotics, most consumers will look for a general ‘digestive health’ claim because they often have only a preliminary understanding of specific strain benefits. Manufacturers and retailers need to start educating consumers that not all pre- and probiotics are created equal.
“Look for specific strains on the label,” Pirrie continued, “as they can help us identify proven efficacy. The Latin binomial name (Lactobacillus acidophilus, abbreviated as L. acidophilus) is not enough to identify which strain of L. acidophilus is present in a product. For example, it can be L. acidophilus NCFM or L. acidophilus La-14, both of which offer distinctly proven benefits in clinical study.”
“In many cases,” noted Pirrie, “consumers begin to address digestive issues by using over-the-counter medications and/or prescription medications. Often, they and their doctors will turn to natural remedies for additional support. Make an effort to stay current on the latest scientific research, which is constantly introducing new discoveries,” added Pirrie. “According to Innova Market Insights, 2,800 scientific articles related to gut health were published in 2013, more than double what was available in 2010.”
Trout of Health-Ade hopes that people “stop looking at probiotics necessarily as a supplement and more as food—like a bag of carrots—to give you nutrients you need.” Her advice to retailers is, “Be knowledgeable about who manufactures the products and how, and also what their standards are because it really differs. If they want it to be natural and unadulterated, the retailers can be a useful tool in guiding customers. Understanding where your products come from—especially prepackaged ones—is key for retailers.”
In addition, “retailers should rely on digital resources to distribute product information to their customers. The internet has dramatically changed the way consumers learn and shop,” said Pirrie.
Jones added it’s important to educate customers not only on the product, but on how they know if it’s working for them. Over the long term, “a healthy intestinal tract and working around everything else” is the goal, she concluded. VR
For More Information:
Health-Ade Kombucha, (310) 710-8602
Neutraceutix, (425) 883-9518
NOW Health Group, (888) 669-3663
Rainbow Light, www.rainbowlight.com