Many factors can impact a person’s gut health, including genetics, medications and diet. As more consumers increasingly become aware of the effects of what they put into their body, they are turning to functional beverages to improve overall health. The demand for beverages containing fiber, probiotics and prebiotics continues to rise as consumers “go with their gut” to improve health and well-being.

Taylor Halstead, product manager for specialty carbohydrates at Minneapolis-based Cargill, notes that consumer’s understanding of fiber is changing and that’s sparking renewed interest in the nutrient. For instance, the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights called out fiber as a key trend for 2019, noting that 44 percent of U.S. consumers were increasing their fiber consumption, Halstead explains, citing a Jan. 14 article from Nutrition Insight. Consumer research from the International Food Information Council’s 2018 Food & Health Survey notes that 83 percent of consumers view fiber as healthy, he adds.

The growing interest in fiber and probiotics highlight an important consumer trend focused on proactive health and wellness, says John Quilter, vice president and general manager of ProActive Health at Beloit, Wis.-based Kerry. “With more consumers searching for foods and beverages fortified with functional ingredients to deliver targeted health benefits, we are seeing an increase in demand for products formulated with probiotics to offer benefits such as digestive and immune health support,” he says.

“Research shows that food and beverages with digestive functional benefits have grown 16 percent and those with immunity benefits have grown 9 percent in the last four years,” Quilter continues. “And probiotics are one of the top sought-after ingredients. For example, our research found that consumer perception ranked probiotics as one of the Top 5 ingredients that provide functional benefits,” he explains, citing the company’s Proprietary Consumer Research, Proactive Health, 2019.

Cargill’s Halstead also recognizes the benefits of probiotics. “Probiotics are helpful living bacteria and yeasts that populate the digestive system and keep things balanced and working smoothly,” he says.

Holly McHugh, communications strategist at Chicago-based Imbibe, echoes similar sentiments. “Probiotics continue to be a popular functional ingredient across beverage categories,” she says. “All the positive publicity that probiotics have received in the past few years for their contribution to a healthy gut has created a similar positive association with prebiotics and other types of fibers. Fiber can be found in beverages like water, soda and tea.”


Getting what you need

Although consumers are showing an increased interest in their digestive health, industry data shows opportunity for growth, experts say. “We know consumers aren’t getting the fiber they need and are being told to increase their fiber intake,” Cargill’s Halstead says. “More broadly, we also see evidence that consumers are beginning to understand digestive health as it relates to the microbiome and overall health and wellness.

“Consider the findings of a 2018 HealthFocus International report, which found digestive health is the top ranked functional health benefits shoppers look for in foods and beverages,” he continues. “The same study noted that consumers view digestive health holistically, with 70 percent linking digestive health with their overall physical health.”

As awareness grows for how probiotics contribute to a healthy lifestyle, researchers are convinced more consumers will seek out beverages that deliver these beneficial ingredients, Halstead adds.

Kerry’s Quilter also sees a growing interest in digestive health ingredients within the beverage market. “In general, consumers want healthier drink options and are becoming more aware of the ingredients used in beverages,” he says. “Growing consumer awareness of the health benefits of probiotics has driven an increase in demand for the functional beverages that contain them.

“To emphasize this point, fiber is gaining interest because universally it is a nutrient of deficit, meaning the typical American only eats half the recommended dose,” he continues. “This can have negative effects ranging from weight gain from lack of satiety, increased incidence of inflammatory bowel syndrome and increased risk of colon cancer.”

Imbibe’s McHugh also points to the health benefits of fiber and probiotic consumption. “Technology has made accessing and sharing information easier so consumer awareness about the importance of a healthy gut has grown significantly over the last several years,” she says. “Consumers are realizing a healthy gut benefits more than digestion such as improving immunity and mood.”

Beverage-makers are realizing this health need-state and are formulating beverages with ingredients that support digestive health. “Because strains like GanedenBC30 can survive many manufacturing processes, probiotics are now being utilized in most beverage categories,” Kerry’s Quilter says. “Beta glucans are also becoming an ingredient garnering high interest among consumers. Because of this, our branded beta glucan ingredient Wellmune, continues to be featured in food, beverages and supplements.”

Adding probiotic and prebiotic ingredients to beverages easily can be done with good results, particularly in yogurt and dairy beverages, Cargill’s Halstead notes. Yogurt beverages make the most sense for consumer acceptance because of the inherent inclusion of probiotics; however, adding prebiotics to dairy could help to enhance the growth of normal, beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut and offer similar benefits as yogurt without having a fermented product, he adds.

Halstead highlights the potential of chicory root fiber for beverage applications. “As a soluble fiber, chicory root fiber is easy to use in a wide variety of beverage and dairy applications without affecting the taste or texture of the final product,” he says. “[Cargill] offers grades of chicory root fiber that add little to no viscosity, [which is] perfect for beverage applications.”

Cargill offers its version of chicory root fiber: Oliggo Fiber. Oliggo Fiber is plant-based, label-friendly and non-GMO, Halstead explains. Studies have shown that consuming 5 grams of chicory root fiber a day not only adds fiber to the diet, but also can help feed normal beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut, he adds.

Although adding probiotics to beverage formulations mainly is beneficial, it can bring about a few challenges, notes Imbibe’s Vice President of Research and Development Joe Farinella. “[P]robiotics do present some challenges when used in beverage applications,” he says. “The biggest issue is that they are not truly shelf-stable ready-to-drink beverages. The spore form of probiotics, commonly used in beverages due to their ability to withstand higher temperatures, will germinate above 86 degrees. While most of the time a beverage will not see these high temperatures, it is difficult to prevent exposure throughout [the] supply chain so most beverages with probiotics are sold via refrigerated distribution.

“The other challenge with probiotics is that they do not survive higher thermal processing conditions such as [ultra-high temperature processing] UHT or retort,” Farinella continues. “If used in beverages that require lower temperature processing, probiotics can be easily combined with fiber to yield a product with strong digestive health functionality.”

Kerry’s Quilter notes that adding prebiotics also can present possible challenges for brand owners. “The biggest challenge a formulator will face is the adverse effects of prebiotic fiber, which include gas and bloating,” he says. “It can often be tempting to add prebiotics at high levels in order to get an ‘excellent source’ claim to maximize your value add. But those levels can often lead to undesirable effects for the consumer. While a product that has great claims may attract a consumer once, if it has adverse effects, you are not likely to retain that customer.”


A combination of health

As consumers continue to seek out functional beverages for their day-to-day lives, beverage-makers are beginning to combine ingredients to essentially “kill two birds with one stone.” “There’s definitely an interest in combining probiotics with fiber, specifically prebiotic fiber,” Kerry’s Quilter says. “Our research has shown that the combination can increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

“However, it is worth noting that many of our partners have launched very successful probiotic beverages without fiber,” he continues. “Some probiotic strains may need a prebiotic to enhance effects, while others can perform without them. … A strain like GanedenBC30 does not need to be combined with a prebiotic to have beneficial effects for consumers.”

Kerry’s Quilter highlights that the company’s GanedenBC30 continues to resonate well with consumers. The product that originally sparked the probiotic beverage demand is kombucha — with its associated digestive and immune health benefits the beverage has surged to popularity, Quilter says. “For example, GT’s and KeVita Sparkling Probiotic Drink are making some noise in the U.S. kombucha market,” he continues. “Both of these products include GandenBC30 and these product manufacturers chose our probiotic because of its science-backed health benefits, its stability and survivability, and its brand recognition.”

The future of fiber, probiotic and prebiotic-enhanced beverages looks bright, experts say. “Consumers are learning how probiotics and prebiotics fit together, and as that understanding increases, so, too, will the opportunities for innovative beverage-makers,” Cargill’s Halstead says. “[The ingredients] also fit with today’s ‘clean-label’ trends. Across the beverage industry, there’s a big push to simplify ingredient lists. Today’s consumers want to recognize the ingredients in their food and beverages and know where those ingredients come from.”

Kerry’s Quilter also predicts a successful road for gut-health ingredients. “The properties of spore-forming probiotics make them a perfect fit for the fortification of beverages,” he says. “This has transformed the landscape for probiotic companies, opening up multiple new channels for beverages beyond chilled dairy. These opportunities, combined with ever-increasing consumer demand for probiotics in convenient formats, means the future for probiotic beverages is bright.” BI