By Dr. Jason Bush, Chief Scientific Officer

From probiotics to prebiotics to postbiotics and synbiotics, the ‘biotics’ revolution is here to stay, and brands are left trying to understand how to position emerging jargon in the context of consumers’ understanding of gut health. According to Mintel’s US Digestive Health Report 2021, consumers still lack understanding of ‘biotics,’ yet little do consumers know – they can meet their desire for multi-functional products that aid digestive health and overall wellness.1

After reviewing the state of the ‘biotics’ industry with the objective of maximizing emerging research alongside consumer insights, here’s our take on what is worthy of being included in your microbiome strategy for 2022.

Probiotics

For many consumers, gut health supplement solutions start and end with probiotics, the old guard of preventative gut health. These well-researched products boast strong safety profiles with innovation driving claims in novel areas like stress and anxiety. Still, they can be limited in their ability to prove efficacy, resulting in vague marketing language. At the end of Q2 2021, the top probiotic brands experienced a decrease in sales, likely due to consumer understanding or perception of value.2

One downside of formulating with living organisms as it can limit product formats – foods and supplements exposed to heat or containing high water activity can only deliver spore-based probiotics, which can have limited claim options. BC30’s Bacillus coagulans (GBI-30, 6086) and Deerland’s DE111 are great exceptions: both spore-forming, high heat compatible probiotics for functional food and beverage applications with solid claims for digestive health and immunity.

As preventative gut health concerns grow more prominent in the minds of consumers, probiotics will continue to be a focus, but formulators will need to diversify their toolkits with other ‘biotics’ to meet the needs of consumers and remain market leaders.

Prebiotics

After years of playing ‘second fiddle’ to probiotics, prebiotics are well-positioned to mark their stake in the digestive health market with double-digit growth every year since 2016.3 Being recognized as dietary fiber and fitting under consumer-friendly nutrition fact labels undoubtedly give the most established prebiotics an ability to dovetail communications with existing consumer understanding.

Like probiotics, prebiotics are increasingly substantiated by solid medical research, enabling an ever-expanding array of health claims to choose. Not surprisingly, many prebiotic health claims overlap with probiotic ones, leading formulators to an ‘either/or’ decision point when formulating. Here, prebiotic stability and its relationship with dietary fiber often win out over probiotics, allowing for probiotic-like gut health claims in formats like food and beverage.

From a storytelling perspective, prebiotics also excel in the ‘gut flora as a garden’ concept helping probiotics to thrive and aiding consumer understanding of their functionality. Additionally, following a feed what’s already inside narrative, prebiotics like Solnul™ can make GI health and microbe claims in the absence of a probiotic. The big watch out with prebiotics is tolerability and stacking, so you’re best to steer clear of anything containing Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)/Inulin or Galactooligosaccharides (GOS).

Given the broad health claim territory, food-first approach, and exceptional stability, prebiotics are seeking to rival probiotics for the number one position in the gut health market.

Postbiotics

Familiarity with postbiotics is growing, but it remains unclear whether increased interest in the microbiome or confusion regarding pro/pre/post terms is responsible.4 Postbiotics are understood to be substances produced by probiotics, including the components of probiotic cells themselves, that promote healthful responses by the host. Butyrate may be the best known postbiotic, a short-chain fatty acid produced by healthy bacteria in the gut in response to prebiotic fermentation that fuels cells lining the large intestine and plays important roles in human metabolism and resistance to cancer.5

However, the rising trajectory of postbiotics was derailed in 2021 when the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) published a consensus document stating that substances like butyrate must be accompanied by inactivated probiotics to meet their postbiotic definition formally.6 The authors cite industry and market demand for stipulating the definition this way but can point to no definitive postbiotic in the market, except for inactivated (non-living) probiotics. With a limited ability to influence regulatory decisions, it appears that ISAPP’s novel definition will simply confuse the market and consumers. If postbiotics succeed in the near future, it will be independent of this term and will require significant consumer understanding.

Synbiotics

Synbiotics are combinations of prebiotics and probiotics, perfectly illustrating the ‘prebiotic feeds a probiotic’ concept. ISAPP had more success in stipulating the synbiotic definition. They specifically noted that pre + pro formulations not providing the synergistic benefits the name suggests may still promote complementary benefits not conferred by the prebiotic or probiotic alone. Joshua Schall, a functional CPG strategist, noted during the 2021 Probiota symposium that brands should communicate these combinations simply as pre + pro ingredients because consumers aren’t yet educated enough to appreciate the benefits of another ‘biotic.’ While synbiotic messaging has emerged in the market, pre + pro message is gaining awareness up over 25% with consumers.7

When formulating a pre + pro, another thing to consider is the format – sachets or capsules? Sachets combine the convenience of single-serve dosing with the ability to meet daily intake targets for dietary fiber from prebiotics, given their net weight. Capsules, which can be more convenient to administer, simply can’t hold enough to meet the required fiber intake. GoLive and Pre/o Biotics by 4Life are successful examples of this messaging and format, offering a pre + pro sachet product line.

The big takeaway is that toolkits are diversifying beyond just probiotic ingredients, once the sole option for formulators. Driven by new research-backed health claims and our growing understanding of the microbiome’s complexity, a suite of ‘biotics’ is available at our disposal. Even though there’s some catchup work to do in communicating the effects, ‘biotics’ can give consumers all they want from a preventative health standpoint. But be sure to leverage product education through social media with key opinion leaders and digestive health experts.

Does it matter which ‘biotic’? When formulating, it’s important to choose a clinically-proven ingredient to ensure trust with consumers. Blending more than one ‘biotic’ also allows you to mix/match claims specific to your audience. Vague marketing claims won’t cut it – consumers crave straightforward, science-backed product information so remember to keep it simple and build off existing knowledge. That’s why the pre + pro messaging is an easy win with consumers and our top recommendation for your microbiome strategy for 2022.


 

1, 2 Mintel US Digestive Health Report, 2021

3 NBJ Insights, 2020

4 ITC Supplement Consumer Insights, 2021

5 Gonçalves Pedro,Martel Fátima, “Butyrate and Colorectal Cancer: The Role of Butyrate Transport”, Current Drug Metabolism 2013; 14(9). Available here

6 Salminen, S., Collado, M.C., Endo, A. et al. The International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of postbiotics. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 18, 649–667 (2021). Available here

7 ITC Supplement Consumer Insights, 2021


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