By Cara Kennedy, Director of Marketing
When it comes to formulating microbiome products, it can often feel like you’re building the plane as you fly it. Emerging research or regulations can change the trajectory of new projects or cause you to re-evaluate existing ones. But that is what makes this industry cutting-edge, exhilarating and completely worthwhile.
This year, we know that consumer knowledge of the microbiome has expanded beyond the mainstays of gut health and immunity. The concept that ‘all health begins in the gut’ is gaining acceptance, but with the gut-brain axis, the gut-skin axis, and so many other complex connections, you may be asking yourself: How can I differentiate? How can I meet the needs of my consumer?
We took a deep dive into the industry to reveal our predictions for 2023. Whether you’re marketing or developing a product, pay special attention to these trends as part of your microbiome strategy.
The gut as a garden is a simple analogy that can often be overlooked by developers. Going back to the basics, the goal of every microbiome product should be to feed the microbes in the gut, increase the beneficial ones and enhance host health. We know this concept is the basis of consumers’ gut health understanding and can help them comprehend the changes taking place within the microbiome. Beyond the common Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, we’re seeing a rise in next-generation microbes such as Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii as a result of a healthy gut ecosystem. Although we’re still understanding the specifics, we know Akkermansia feeds on mucin, which is an indicator of a healthy gut lining. Brands like Metagenics and The Akkermansia Company are ahead of their time with a pasteurized Akkermansia bacteria product. If you want to develop an anti-inflammatory or metabolism-focused supplement, consider adding next-gen beneficial microbes to your formulation.
Low FODMAP Goes Mainstream
Fast-fermenting fibers have started to show up in everything from your snack bar to your protein powder, creating a stacking effect that is bound to blow up a nation. If you’re developing a gut health product and your consumer suffers in the slightest from IBS-related symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, then you’ll want to steer clear of formulating with high Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAP) ingredients. Globally, 15% of the population1 is said to suffer from these digestive symptoms giving rise to a niche Low FODMAP category. Brands like FODY and Dr. Rachel Pauls have already carved out their stake in this market with an assortment of products that have insoluble, slow-to-ferment fibers and other low FODMAP ingredients. Gluten-free had a similar pathway to success and, if our predictions hold true, this will be a crucial category to watch for your microbiome strategy.
Redefining Clean Label
While processed foods are a part of most people’s diets and the reality of our food system, our microbiomes don’t know what to do with these modified ingredients. Our microbes need unmodified, whole foods – just as nature intended them – in order to properly digest and absorb nutrients properly. The term ‘clean label’ should be synonymous with microbiome-friendly ingredients but is often stretched or misused. Organizations like Clean Label Project and Glyphosate Residue Free (GRF) bring trust and transparency to consumer products. In fact, according to SPINS, the GRF market grew more than 20% year-over-year to nearly $800 million, indicating that consumers and companies alike see the value in the certification seal on package. GRF brand MUSH overnight oats exemplifies the whole food, artificial-free ingredient list we all desire, as does Laird Superfoods with their Picky Bars, which contain real food and are real tasty. If you’re adding a gut health claim to an otherwise unhealthy product, it may be time to revisit the simplicity of whole food.
Feeding the Mind
Whether consumers are looking to evade brain fog or have a general desire to boost cognitive capacity and manage stress levels, brain health will be a big focus of 2023. According to Mintel, nearly half of the US population reported experiencing stress this past year, making it no surprise consumers are seeking new ways to improve their mental health and performance needs2. As microbiome research continues to point to the importance of gut-brain connection, consumers know nutrition is a huge part of optimum mental health. Companies like Neurohacker have built their entire brand story around cognitive support with their Qualia nootropic product line. They have a unique formulation strategy that focuses on systems of the body working as one rather than in isolation, and use careful ingredient selection and synergy to achieve this. MyBrain.co is another nootropic brand that optimizes physiological and cognitive function with their acclaimed Sharp Mind System™, an evolution in nutritional supplements. As researching the microbiome space expands, formulators should expect to see ‘beyond the gut’ claims come from familiar ingredients.
The New Athlete
Gone are the days when sports nutrition products are designed for Venice Beach bodybuilders. With new research on the microbiome influencing performance and recovery, the category has evolved to be more inclusive, and that includes the ingredient deck too. We see a shift away from protein and a greater focus on hydration, fiber and botanicals to support microbiome and cellular health, and stress responses. Hekate, an all-natural functional mushroom supplement line created by high performers for high performers, is a great example of a Sports Drink Mix powdered by mushroom adaptogens that promote resiliency and energy under times of stress. We’ve all been fed an Athletic Greens Instagram ad at least once, and for good reason, because AG1 is that complete product consumers been missing. They’re another brand with a strong focus on filling nutrient gaps and powering the microbiome. Everything but the kitchen sink is in this product, like prebiotics and probiotics to promote gut health, and other amazing ingredients to support immunity, boost energy and help aid recovery.
The Lady Biome
Women are so amazing that they get their own extra microbiome. That’s right, the vaginal microbiome is a complex and ever-changing microecosystem that fluctuates in response to the female menstrual cycle and evolves over a woman’s entire life3. We’re seeing products take off that are specifically designed to support the unique needs of women throughout all their stages of life. Take, for instance, Namoi Watts’ brand Stripes, which targets women going through menopause, or rather mid-life, supporting everything from scalp to gut to vagina. The brand is all about healthy aging, not anti-aging, and being proud of the ’stripes’ ones earned. Happy V is another example of a laser-focused brand on vaginal health with innovative pre + pro formulations for bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. By supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, these products support optimal pH balance and healthy vaginal flora.
This year, formulators need to dig deeper into their knowledge of the microbiome – developing an understanding that covers next-gen microbes and how science-backed ingredients work in areas beyond the gut. This should be a no-brainer when formulating gut health products but, strip down your ingredient list to include microbiome-friendly ingredients like whole foods and Low FODMAP. Know your target and cater to the specific needs of the evolving consumer so you can grow with them, securing long-lasting brand loyalty.
1 Werlang et al., 2019, PMID: 30899204
2 Mintel Reports US, Managing Stress and Mental Wellbeing, 2022
3 Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol., 07 April 2021, Available here