As more people battle digestive problems, they’re turning to brands offering gut health solutions. Digestive health is the third most sought after health benefit in the latest International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey, behind weight loss and energy.

Though it’s a hot topic, it’s a space challenged with unsupported health claims and confusing ingredient additives. During a panel hosted by Food Navigator, four industry leaders shared insight into the growing gut health category.

“What we’ve learned is that many of our consumers come into our brand typically with serious, long term digestive health challenges. Bloating, regularity challenges, IBS,” said Mitchell Kruesi, senior brand manager for Goodbelly, which creates probiotic drinks and snacks. “They’ve tried supplements in the past, but weren’t super enthusiastic about them because often times taking a supplement felt medicinal to them. After that, they continue to seek out other probiotic options that are both effective, but also food-based so that it’s easy to fit in their routine.”

Demystifying Probiotics

Plagued with health issues and fed-up with pills, consumers are desiring food brands that aid digestive health. Flavor, though, is key.

“That delicious taste…it sets up an everyday usage routine, which is critical with probiotics,” Kruesi said.

Probiotics is a confusing territory for consumers. Should probiotics be consumed in pills or as a strain added to food? How much should be taken?

Elaine Watson, Food Navigator editor, quoted GT Dave, founder of GT Kombucha: “In my mind, anything raw and fermented deserves to use the term ‘probiotic.” Watson asked the panelists if there’s a perception that all fermented foods contain probiotics because they contain live, active cultures – and should food advertising probiotics be verified by clinically proven studies?

“I think consumers are quite confused still around the whole topic, in all honestly. Live, active cultures are used to make fermented food beverages – but unlink probiotics, they’re typically not studied and shown to provide a health benefit,” said Angela Grist, Activia US marketing director. Really in order to be considered a probiotic, they would need to meet the criteria of survival and research-validated health benefits and also this point around strain specificity.”

Grist said probiotics need to survive the passage through the digestive track to the colon. Activia has five survival studies showing the benefits of probiotics.

Ben Goodwin, co-founder of Olipop, added he’s conducted genetic assays around the underlying culture banks of fermented food and beverages and “there have definitely been organisms in the culture banks which are deleterious for human health. So not everything that’s fermented is automatically good for human health, there’s all sorts of different biological modes that organisms can interact with each other and some become parasitic or become determinantal to your probiotic when consumed, so something to keep in mind.”

Note that the panel did not feature a raw, fermented food brand; the companies included on the panel all add probiotic strains to their food and drink product.

In a separate interview with The Fermentation Association, Maria Marco, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, said there is a lot of confusion around probiotics, even among industry representatives. Marco, though, agrees with Grist and Goodwin. She says clinical studies on fermented foods are necessary.

“Although it might be possible to separate out the individual components of foods for known health benefits (e.g. vitamin C), the benefits of many foods are likely the result of multiple components that are not easily separated,” Marco said. “Yogurt consumption is a great example of a fermented food that, through longitudinal studies, was shown to be inversely associated with CVD risk.”

In one of Marco’s studies at UC Davis titled “Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond,” Marco and her research associates concluded that fermented foods: are “phylogenetically related to probiotic strains,” “an important dietary source of live microorganisms,” and the microbes in fermented foods “may contribute to human health in a manner similar to probiotics.” The study adds: “Although only a limited number of clinical studies on fermented foods have been performed, there is evidence that these foods provide health benefits well-beyond the starting food materials.”

Educating Consumers

The panel said that the food industry is responsible for displaying integrity in their marketing on probiotic benefits.

“We believe it’s critical for leading brands in the space…to really educate consumers on, first, what probiotics are,” said Kruesi with Goodbelly. Consumers are seeking out probiotics for a specific health benefit, but most don’t know what strain they need to address their issue, he noted.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid the digestive system by balancing gut bacteria.

Currently, the demographic of consumers buying products geared toward gut health are millennial females in coastal cities. Both Activia and Olipop sell to more women than men (Activia customers are 60 percent female and 40 percent male; Olipop customers are 55 percent female and 45 percent male).  

Goodwin said Olipop is hoping to tap into the rapidly declining soda market. Soda is a $65 billion industry, with 90 percent household penetration. But more consumers are turning to healthier options than unnatural, sugar-filled soda.

“We’ve tried to take on the extra responsibility as a brand of formulating something that’s spun forward, delicious and really approachable so that we can meet a real health need in a way that’s actually supported by research,” Goodwin said. “(Olipop) is not only low sugar, low calorie, it also has this digestive health function but obviously doesn’t taste like vinegar because it’s not a kombucha.”

Solving Digestive Stress

Products by Activia, Goodbelly, Olipop and Uplift Food (the fourth panel member) are “meant to be a mass solution for the lack of fiber prebiotics and nutritional diversity in the modern diet,” Goodwin said. Fiber contains prebiotics, which aid probiotics.

The USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend adult men require 34 grams of fiber, while adult women require 28 grams of fiber (depending on age). The reality, though, is that most Americans get about half the recommended fiber a day, only 15 grams. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 60-70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases.

Compare that to the diet of hunter-gatherers, who eat about 100-150 grams of fiber each day and maintain incredibly healthy guts or microbiome. The microbiome is the community of commensal microorganisms in our intestines, fed by fiber, probiotics and prebiotics.

“As it stands now, basically we’re putting in a starvation system for a lot of the microorganisms currently in your gut,” Goodwin said. “The average industrialized consumer has about 50 percent less diversity and abundance of beneficial microorganisms than the hunger-gatherers alive on the planet tonight.”

Future of Gut Health Products

Grist with Activia said probiotics need to be consumed in adequate, regular amounts to provide health benefits, or else probiotics will not consume the digestive track.

Kara Landau, dietitian and founder for Uplift Foods which makes prebiotic foods, added that each individual has a unique bacterial make-up, and providing diverse food to support the microbiome is critical.

Landau said the future of gut health probiotics will be selling a specific probiotic strain, one that a consumer can target for their desired health benefit. Prebiotics – “the fuel for the probiotics” – are also key, and a new part of the digestive health puzzle that brands need to communicate and simplify for consumers.

“Prebiotics are still very much in their infancy when it comes to consumer understanding,” Landau said. “Seeing them alongside probiotics enhances the clarity of their benefits.”

The deadline for the annual Good Food Awards has been extended until tomorrow, August 2. The Good Food Awards invites food producers from across the country to submit their beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, cider, coffee, confections, elixirs, honey, oils, pickles, preserves, preserved fish, spirits, pantry items, snacks and – new this year ­– grains! (Grains, you ask? We’re talking grits, rice, quinoa tortillas, pasta and more!) Click here to apply.

Award winners from 2019 featured multiple fermented products, like Forward Roots Fermented Vegan Kimchi Sauce, St. Benoit Creamery Plain Yogurt, Elevate Grain Naturally Fermented Beer Grain Crackers, Blue Bus Cultured Local Kraut-chi, Civil Ferments Ethiopian Sauerkraut, Little Apple Treats Original Apple Cider Vinegar, Barrel Creek Provisions Cucmbers, Lindera Farms Apple Cider Vinegar, Gold Mine Natural Food Co Organic Probiotic Golden Kraut, Hex Ferments Sauerkraut, St. Pete Ferments Jackfruit Kimchi, Oly Kraut Local Spicy Garlic Sauerkraut, Real Pickles Organic Garlic Dill Pickles & Organic Garlic Kraut.

Read more (The Good Food Awards) http://bit.ly/2ysMWed
(Photo by: Good Food Awards of 2016 winner, Wild West Ferments)

Fermentation-based Impossible Foods — which makes a meat alternative with its own heme from yeast fermentation — is now a $2 billion company. The company behind the Impossible Burger raised an additional $300 million in funding, reflecting investor demand for meat alternatives. The meat-free burger cooks and tastes like meat — many consumers say they can’t tell the difference between Impossible Burger and ground beef. Impossible Foods partnered with Burger Kind earlier this year for the launch of the Impossible Whopper, a meatless burger that received rave reviews.

Read more (Vox)

We’re at Natural Products Expo West this week, checking out the innovations in the natural food industry and learning about the future of food. Here are nine trends from Expo West:

1. Sugar Vilified. Natural products are axing white sugar, using low- or no-calorie sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit.

2. Healthy Fats. The fat-free era is gone; today’s products include full-fat ingredients, like ghee and avocado oil.

3. Eat More Plants. Natural brands ate using more plant-based products with fruits and vegetables instead of meat.

4. Healthy Microbiome. Gut health is big, and natural products are focusing on probiotics and prebiotics.

5. Endocannabinoid System. Brands are experimenting with CBD, hemp and the encocannabinoid system.

6. Nutrition Meets Convenience. Products are adding extra nutritional value – and focusing on grab-and-go convenience.

7. Responsible Sourcing. Transparency is vital to consumers, and brands are sourcing quality ingredients and trade relationships.

8. Responsible Packaging. Single-use plastic packaging is out; products today are put in reusable and compostable packaging.

9. Updating Stale Categories. The pantry is getting an overhaul with better ingredients for classic items.

Read more (New Hope Network)

 

America could be facing a pickle shortage. Since the mid-2000s, a mildew has been destroying cucumber crops. Fewer farmers are growing cucumbers now because of the high amount of failed harvests. USDA records show pickling cucumber acreage has declined 25 percent between 2004 and 2015. Lina Quesada-Ocampo, vegetable pathologist at North Carolina State University told NPR: “This is the number one threat to the pickle industry.” Thankfully, vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek, a professor at Cornell University, is developing a cucumber variety resistant to mildew.

Read more (NPR)

Two scientists have a patent pending on a brewery invention that detects the wild yeast contaminant Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus. The wild yeast causes secondary fermentation in beer production, fermenting unfermentable sugars and overcarbonating brews. A contamination costs brewers millions in recalled product, lost sales and decreased market share. The patent is by a University of Sciences director and his 20-year-old undergrad researcher. The microbiological medium would be marketed for professional and home brewers.

Read more (Philadelphia Business Journal)

A kombucha entrepreneur made a major deal on the latest episode of “Shark Tank.” All the investor “sharks” wanted in on Kate Field’s at-home kombucha brewing kit. Two sharks offered Field $350,000 in exchange for 10 percent of her business, The Kombucha Shop. The kit sells for $45 and includes a reusable brew jar, a temperature gauge, test strips, brewing instructions and ingredients. (Inc.) (Photo from: The Kombucha Shop) https://goo.gl/4GjJhq .

“Dealing with fame” – an ABC Life story about kimchi. The condiment is consumed at every meal by 63 percent of Koreans. And today the salty fermented cabbage is served at restaurants all over the world, from breakfast diners to burger joints. Australian chef Peter Jo: “Kimchi isn’t a dish, it’s a technique.”

Read more (ABC Life)

Microbiologists in Canada developed a formula that makes commercial kefir healthier. Traditional, old-world kefir is packed with health benefits, decreasing weight gain by 40% and cholesterol levels by 50%. Commercial kefir, though, does not contain bacteria-loving yeast used in traditional kefir. That variation in the fermentation process means commercial kefir is not as healthy. The Canadian microbiologist’s formula can be added to milk in commercial vats and is currently in the patent process.

Read more (Folio)

Fermented food and drink products are the next big thing in the food industry. How does your product stand out in the marketplace? The Fermentation Association (TFA), getting more people to enjoy fermented products. Join us at fermentationassociation.org