First published in 1733 and once a year for the next 25 years, Poor Richard’s Almanack is recognized to be Benjamin Franklin’s greatest business accomplishment. Under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, Franklin would write on all sorts of topics, including advice, aphorisms and proverbs about industry and frugality. For instance, in Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1742, on the topic of health and “rules” for living a long life, Franklin wrote: “A greater quantity of some things may be eaten than of others, some being of lighter digestion than others.”
Today, although most consumers no longer turn to almanacs for advice or information on digestive health, experts note that the rising interest in these areas has resulted in fiber and probiotics becoming a hot topic within the beverage industry.
“As modern consumers increasingly seek ways to proactively support their overall well-being in both the short term and the long term, digestive health is coming to the fore,” says Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing for microbiome solutions at ADM, Chicago. “In fact, 76% of global consumers recognize a link between digestive health and overall well-being.
“Plus, 68% of global consumers state that they’re interested in products that address digestive health, even when they are not experiencing concerns,” he continues. “Concurrently, consumers recognize the importance of bacteria in the gut and how it helps reach both physical and emotional health goals, particularly as consumers are more focused on balanced wellness.”
Jenna Nelson, EpiCor marketing director at Cargill, Wayzata, Minn., echoes similar sentiments, noting that improved digestion ranks as one of the top health benefits shoppers seek in their purchases.
“Consumer interest in digestive health is on the rise as they learn more about the gut microbiome and its role in overall health and wellness,” she says. “Research from FMCG Gurus finds nearly eight in 10 consumers recognize that link, up 10 percentage points since 2018. Given this, it’s not surprising that high fiber is one of the top label claims consumers look for on product labels.”
Kyle Krause, regional product manager of functional fibers and carbohydrates of North America at BENEO, Parsippany, N.J., adds that on-pack fiber claims can work to a beverage-maker’s advantage.
“As the digestive system is associated with 70% of our immune system, having a healthy one is important,” Krause says. “As more and more consumers are becoming aware of this fact, beverages are a simple way for them to get impactful ingredients that support their digestive tract.
“The easier the information about fiber is available on-pack the better, as it helps consumers with their purchasing decisions. Manufacturers who are able to do front-of-pack labeling with nutritional claims, as well as health claims, have a clear advantage,” he continues. “With BENEO’s chicory root fiber inulin, a number of structure and function claims are possible in the United States.”
Microbiome, gut health brought into the limelight
Although the link between fiber and digestive health has been of interest for quite some time, experts note that today’s consumers not only have an increased interest in fiber’s link to digestive health, but also that of pre- and probiotics and its role in promoting a healthy gut.
In the past, where the spotlight was on single ingredients contributing to positive gut health — like ﬁber to help maintain bowel regularity — there’s now a shift as more research about the microbiome becomes available and understood, says Grace Kim, technical service manager of beverage for North America, and Becca Henrickson, category development manager at Tate & Lyle, Wilmington, Del.
“As a result, there’s heightened awareness among consumers seeking supplements and products containing functional claims for gut health, such as ‘prebiotic’ in the beverage space,” the experts explain. “We also see consumers linking other claims, like immunity, to overall gut health with an increased understanding that 70% of your immune system is in your gut.”
Cargill’s Nelson notes that, although consumers are most familiar with pre- and probiotics, awareness and interest in postbiotics is growing.
“Our latest consumer research finds nearly half (49%) of all consumers are aware of postbiotics, and a similar number (50%) are open to purchasing products made with them,” she says, citing Cargill proprietary research, 2022. “Consumers credit gut health as the top reason for their interest in postbiotics, while balancing bacteria in the digestive system, boosting the immune system, feeling more positive about health and aiding in digestion are secondary factors for interest in the category.”
Thom King, CEO of Icon Foods, Portland, Ore., points to younger consumers’ heightened interest in digestive health.
“Younger consumers are far more educated,” he says. “There are ample research papers that have shown fibers promote gut health, the microbiome. The microbiome is responsible for the majority of our immune system. It also plays a role in controlling inflammation.”
Further, anxiety and depression among the younger demographic is at epidemic levels and a healthy gut is responsible for 95% of the body’s serotonin production, King says, citing research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
“Consumers read, and they will gravitate to products that bolster a healthy gut and these are products that are high in fiber,” King explains.
Today, as fiber and biotic solutions are not only recognized for supporting digestive health, but also overall well-being, experts note that demand for such ingredients is on the rise.
“There is clear continued growth potential for these ingredients, with recent market research predicting that the total business-to-business global microbiome segment, which includes prebiotic and probiotic ingredients for foods, beverages and dietary supplements, will have a CAGR of 8.6% during 2022-2027,” ADM’s DuBow says. “Beverage brands that seize this opportunity with the development of new functional offerings with biotic solutions are set for success with an ever-expanding group of health-minded consumers.”
BENEO’s Krause notes that, as consumers’ demand for drinks that support digestive health continues to expand, beverage-makers easily can incorporate prebiotic fibers into a variety of beverages.
“Fiber has always been an important ingredient for digestive health benefits. Now there’s an increase in the use of prebiotics,” Krause says. “The use of synbiotics (a blend of prebiotics and probiotics) is a novel way to increase digestive health by getting the benefits of both prebiotics and probiotics.
“BENEO’s Orafti Inulin and Oligofructose are all natural, non-GMO, and scientifically proven prebiotic fibers,” he continues. “They are easily incorporated into a variety of beverages such as those for protein enrichment, dairy, alternative dairy, meal replacement [and] weight management. They can also be included in refreshments, including juices, smoothies and sodas, as well as in powder mixes of any kind.”
McKenna Mills, senior technical specialist at Cargill, notes that, although dietary fiber is an established ingredient in the digestive health space, there remains a significant fiber gap — leaving growth opportunities for beverage-makers.
“Globally, more than 90% of women and 97% of men do not meet recommended intakes for dietary fiber,” Mills says. “Cargill’s soluble corn fiber, with a minimum 80% fiber content on a dry basis, can help close the dietary fiber gap. A fermentable fiber, emerging science suggests it supports normal healthy laxation when consumed regularly.”
Tate & Lyle’s Kim and Henrickson note that the company’s line of soluble corn fiber called Promitor, is commonly requested for digestive health from customers.
“It’s an ingredient that provides proven functionality while also easily integrating into beverage systems — even at high usage rates,” they explain.
Cargill’s Mills point out that soluble corn fiber, available in liquid and powder formulation, can be an ideal addition for reduced-sugar and no-sugar-added beverage formulations.
“In these applications, the soluble corn fiber replaces the bulk and mouthfeel of the missing sugar,” she says. “At the same time, it may enable fiber claims, depending on the inclusion level. Equally important, Cargill’s soluble corn fiber offers good digestive tolerance.”
Overcoming formulation challenges
When it comes to incorporating ingredients like fiber or biotic solutions into a beverage formulation, experts note that it’s best to take a full formulation approach.
“Understanding how ingredients will interact with each other, as well as the formulation conditions the ingredients may undergo, will lead to better results and achieve important targets, including both sensory and wellness-supporting attributes,” ADM’s DuBow explains. “For example, certain fiber ingredients may impart gritty textures or off-notes, or may create undesirable physical effects, such as bloating or gas.
“Notably, ADM/Matsutani Fibersol, an innovative prebiotic dietary fiber, overcomes formulation hurdles, lessens consumers’ digestive discomfort concerns and provides digestive support,” he continues. “Due to its neutral-taste, high solubility, low viscosity and clarity, and heat, acid, shear, freeze and thaw stability, Fibersol can be used in a multitude of beverage offerings, from dairy-based beverages to energy drinks and more.”
Tate & Lyle’s Kim and Henrickson point out that stability, taste, and digestive tolerance prove to be challenging when adding digestive health ingredients, given that the added ingredients’ acid, UV, and thermal tolerance is essential.
“Additionally, as well as the taste implication, at meaningful levels, some ﬁbers can provide a slick or viscous texture; depending on the beverage matrix, this may not be a positive change,” they explain. “And digestive tolerance can ﬂuctuate among different populations. For that reason, it’s important to ensure that the usage rate in a speciﬁc beverage is within the limits of the ﬁbers’ digestive tolerance.”
Icon Food’s King notes that when adding fiber to formulations, stacking fibers delivers much better results than using a single fiber.
“Each different fiber is metabolized by a different bacterium, so using just one fiber source can lead to monoculturing of a single bacteria, which results in gas and bloating,” King explains. “The combination of short chain FOS (fructooligosaccharides), medium chain inulin from chicory root and soluble tapioca fiber creates a wider spectrum and less potential for gas.”
Cargill’s Nelson highlights how beverage-makers can incorporate innovative ingredients, such as EpiCor postbiotic, to fortify drinks with immune and digestive health benefits.
“While EpiCor does not replace an existing ingredient, the addition of it brings a science-backed solution to the world of beverages,” she says. “Based on EpiCor’s inanimate nature, beverage-makers can include the ingredient with ease. EpiCor has been put through a variety of tests meant to mimic the most common processing conditions associated with functional food and beverage manufacturing. It is heat, pH, and shelf stable.”
ADM’s DuBow adds that, while some probiotics might not remain stable during harsh processing conditions, postbiotics are making waves for tougher formulation conditions and shelf-life environments.
“They differ from probiotics because they contain non-viable microorganisms, while still delivering functionality,” he explains. “We heat-treat our BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT8145) probiotic to create a postbiotic version that can withstand a multitude of formulation environments.”
What’s in store for the future
Although inflation continues to affect the beverage market, when it comes to functional beverages, experts note that demand for such drinks with digestive health claims remains strong.
“Inﬂation has impacted the beverage market, but not in the way you would think,” Tate & Lyle’s Kim and Henrickson explain. “The brands and products growing in volume right now are the ones with functional health claims. Energy is currently the top-ranking claim, but gut health and hydration also drive sales in the beverage category. Prebiotic sodas, in particular, are in a growth state as consumers look to optimize their choices and get more functional beneﬁts for their money.”
BENEO’s Krause echoes similar sentiments, noting that although inflation might be a short-term problem, functional drinks have become a consumer staple.
“In general, I believe that functional drinks will continue to be a staple in many consumers’ lives, whether they’re looking for digestive health or other benefits such as energy, recovery, weight management, protein/vitamin/mineral, to name just a few,” he says. “We can conclude that as even more information becomes available to consumers about the positive impacts of fiber on the gut microbiome, the interest in digestive health ingredients in beverages and other delivery mechanisms will continue to increase.”
As the rate and amount of clinical research and consumer awareness increase, Tate & Lyle’s Kim and Henrickson predict that products will become more personalized and optimized to ﬁt individual needs at various life stages.
“We already see this with the introduction of child-focused products and maternal health beneﬁt claims populating the market,” Kim and Henrickson note. “Claims will continue to be further specialized, shifting focus with the aging and diversifying population.
“We anticipate more connection to and knowledge of synbiotics and the link that speciﬁc prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics have to strengthening and optimizing overall health,” they continue.
Where prebiotic fiber, probiotics and postbiotics each play an important role in product development targeting digestive support, ADM’s DuBow anticipates such solutions to evolve and combine together as tri-biotic functional solutions — opening the door for more beverage formats to take part in this space.
“This is also driven by the expanding active nutrition category, which is welcoming a wider range of consumers with varying life stages and lifestyles,” DuBow says. “These consumers are also seeking ways to incorporate more digestive support throughout their daily routines.
“From pre- and post-workout shakes to drinks that can serve as an afternoon pick-me-up or as a way to wind down in the evening, the beverage category is ripe with potential for new product offerings that combine biotic solutions and deliver tailored support,” he concludes.
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