What will it take to make prebiotics a superstar?
Are prebiotics finally ready to move out from under the shadow of their better-known cousin, probiotics? Is this their moment?
The numbers look promising.
Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing, microbiome solutions, at ADM (Chicago), points to recent market research showing that probiotic sales have soared—but that prebiotics have kept a close pace. According to DuBow, “This data predicts 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.”1
Focusing on prebiotics specifically, FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ (Amersfoort, The Netherlands) Sophie Zillinger Molenaar, global marketing lead for Biotis, says, “The global prebiotics market is looking bright,” with some, she adds, predicting a CAGR of 14.9% between 2022 and 2030.2 That would bring the global market for prebiotics to $21 billion by 2030, an impressive bump from $6 billion in 2021. And while that’s still a far ways away from the estimated $73.9 billion global market for the granddaddy of biotics, probiotics, consider that the CAGR for probiotics is lower compared to the CAGR projected for prebiotics during the similar period.3
Even though prebiotics currently own a smaller share of the biotics pie, their star is rising fast.
The difference in dollars today doesn’t deter Clasado Biosciences’ (Berkshire, UK) CEO Per Rehné, who reminds us that “since we are starting to see prebiotics featured more prominently in mainstream food and supplement products, and because it’s growing so rapidly, it’s easy to forget that the category is still relatively new to the market.”
But it’s not just the sales figures that spark confidence. It’s also consumer recognition about the health benefits of the gut microbiome.
For example, Denisse Colindres, manager, nutritional communication, North America, for Beneo (Parsippany, NJ), says, “COVID may be partially responsible [for the growth of the prebiotic market] as it brought to the forefront how prebiotics and digestive health are directly related to strengthening the immune system.”
She notes that “whereas pre-COVID, in 2018, 43% of consumers in the Americas were extremely interested in prebiotics, the share increased to 61% in 2022.”4
That’s a trend Colindres expects to continue “as more and more consumers are recognizing the importance—and positive impacts—of a healthy diet and exercise [to] help to support good health and well-being.”
DuBow says the growth “is driven by increased interest in gut microbiome–supporting solutions at a time when 76% of global consumers recognize a link between their digestive and overall health.”5
And like Colindres, DuBow believes that “consumers are increasingly focused on long-term wellness, with many considering digestive health support as key to a more proactive approach to well-being.”
Moreover, globally, 68% of consumers say they are interested in products that address digestive health, even when they are not experiencing concerns, says DuBow.5
A Complicated Category
But there are some potential roadblocks. The biotics category can be a confusing scientific discipline for consumers.
According to the Global Prebiotic Association’s (GPA) website, there is some debate, even among industry insiders, as to the definition of a prebiotic—as well as the relationship between prebiotics, fiber, and probiotics, and the agreed assessment of health benefits.
However, debate can be a positive thing when an industry is looking to push a category segment towards greater growth. That’s why GPA’s perspective is a good one. As a category still in its adolescence, the opportunity is there to define and educate. And there is a role for trade associations to help shape the future market.
As one would expect, GPA didn’t end its website statement on a down-note. Instead, the association places the anticipated success of the prebiotic market in perspective: “It is clear...that like probiotics not too long ago, there is consumer, practitioner, and industry confusion; there is emerging science; and there is significant category growth and opportunity.”
GPA is run by Len Monheit, executive director of the growing trade association and also the CEO of the Industry Transparency Center (ITC), a strategy and insights firm in the health ingredients and natural products space. GPA, founded in 2017, now has over 40 members representing every aspect of the global prebiotic industry, including five new members added earlier this year.
When probiotics hit their stride, George Paraskevakos, executive director of the International Probiotics Association (IPA), was well positioned to represent probiotic companies, having incorporated the association some 20-plus years ago as a nonprofit organization. The association’s mission is “to promote the safe and efficacious use of probiotics throughout the world.” Now, with an announcement earlier this year that IPA is expanding its scope to include prebiotics, postbiotics, and synbiotics, Paraskevakos is looking to do the same for the other biotics.6
According to an IPA press release, the association’s expanded scope is part of the organization’s strategy to help the biotics industry grow in response to market demands and strengthen its ownership within the biotics categories.
Paraskevakos says, “The structure and approach of IPA over the past 21 years advancing probiotics has set [a] successful framework for advancing the other biotic categories. IPA’s research determined that the industry is confused, and consumers are even more confused.”
A key part of IPA’s strategy is the notion of being “better together.” According to Sandra Saville, education and communication director for IPA, “Just as probiotics and the other biotics are consumed and take effect within the body, they are not acting alone as a separate entity; they work together to support health.”
IPA’s vision of biotics working better together in the human body could also be seen as an umbrella approach for strengthening the organization’s membership-expansion goals by offering broader protection.
GPA and IPA are also competing for members with at least some, if not all, of the “five families”—the American Herbal Products Association, the Consumer Heathcare Products Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the National Products Association, and the United Natural Products Alliance—a situation perhaps not unlike prebiotic suppliers and manufacturers seeking market share from the category.
Do Consumers Know About Pre- and Other Biotics?
Beneo’s Colindres says, “We believe the average consumer who is focused on a healthy lifestyle generally knows what a probiotic is and is starting to hear more about prebiotics, but knowledge is very limited so far.” Furthermore, she adds, when it comes to postbiotics, that’s an entirely new concept that most consumers are not keenly aware of as postbiotics are generally not found in foods/beverages and are relegated, at this point, to supplements.
However, says Colindres, a Mintel consumer survey from 2021 indicated that nearly one-third of respondents understood the difference between prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. As the sample included consumers who had taken an OTC supplement to manage digestive health in the past 12 months, she says it can be assumed “that consumers who are proactively looking for solutions to support their digestive health are already more educated in this field.”7
Traci Kantowski, communications director for GPA and ITC, explained that “digestive support is the gateway to prebiotics for most people—those benefits are understood, and there is lots of science to support this area. It’s also the top-listed reason supplement consumers say they take prebiotics (29%) and probiotics (45%).”8
“In the past couple of years,” Kantowski says, “we’ve also seen increasing science and understanding of immune health benefits—28% of prebiotic supplement consumers and 30% of probiotic supplement consumers say they take the products for this reason. And the body of evidence supporting the gut-brain connection is growing especially with the connection to stress/coping.”
Kantowski further advises that the consumers surveyed want information on how and when to take the products and to understand the similarities and differentiators. “Specifically, for prebiotics,” she says, “we are seeing increasing discernment. They are looking for specific prebiotic types.”
Beneo counts among its ingredients Orafti inulin and Orafti oligofructose, plant-based chicory-root functional-fiber prebiotics, which, says Colindres, are officially on the list of approved dietary fibers published by FDA.
“To extend the knowledge about prebiotics and their beneficial effect on consumers, we see it as a crucial aspect for manufacturers to communicate the advantages that prebiotics bring on-pack,” says Colindres.
Innovation Is One Key to Success
“There isn’t a single silver bullet for ensuring long-term growth in prebiotics,” notes FrieslandCampina’s Molenaar. “Format, efficacy, scientific research, and consumer openness all have a role to play here,” she emphasizes.
“That said, innovation in delivery methods indeed has a critical part in success,” according to Molenaar. She explains that a product isn’t likely to take off if it doesn’t meet consumers’ consumption needs, regardless of how effective it is. She further suggests that “when it comes to gut health, we’re still witnessing continued growth in convenience and on-the-go formats like ready-to-drink applications.”
That’s not all. Molenaar shares that “we’re also seeing more people interested in supplements, especially gummies, as these can be easily incorporated into a daily routine. Some people find that a sweet gummy in an appealing flavor is easier to remember [to take] than a tablet or drink.”
With innovation in mind, last June FrieslandCampina expanded its Biotis portfolio with the addition of Biotis GOS-OP High Purity. “Historically, prebiotic tablet or gummy formulations have proven a challenge due to the high doses of the active ingredient needed to provide an effective solution,” says Molenaar. The product addition helps brands overcome this challenge, says Molenaar, thanks to Biotis GOS-OP High Purity’s unique patent-pending process and high concentration (at over 90%) of galacto-oligosaccharides. She says that research has shown that High Purity GOS can be effective at doses as low as 2 g.
This product introduction “is a significant development for prebiotic supplement innovation, as it means less product is needed to deliver health benefits and the ingredient can be formulated into smaller, trending formats that appeal to a wide range of consumers,” states Molenaar.
Clasado’s Rehné agrees that “the versatility of prebiotic fiber is an enormous influencing factor in market growth because it widens the range of functional products that can be formulated with prebiotics. As a substrate, prebiotics, such as our own Bimuno GOS, are stable across a wide range of pH and very heat stable—all part of modern manufacturing processes.”
This stability gives formulators an advantage, he says, providing them with more options when it comes to new product development and delivery methods. “For example,” says Rehné, “we are seeing new categories emerge alongside dietary supplements, such as prebiotic cereals and yogurts.”
Choice and convenience are among the expectations of today’s consumer, he adds.
Versatility Is Another Key to Market Growth
“While more consumers are turning to health-forward products, they will not settle for formats that don’t fit their individual lifestyles,” claims ADM’s DuBow.
He adds that “consumers are demanding products, like gummies and convenience foods like muffins, sipping broths, bars, etc., that support their distinct experiences and are an enjoyable addition to their daily routines.”
For his customers, DuBow suggests that “brands that can bridge this gap and provide tailored, convenient products that incorporate prebiotic fiber and meet high sensory expectations will capture consumers’ attentions from all walks of life. And incorporating prebiotics into food offers consumers greater flexibility to easily include prebiotics in their diets, especially among those who prefer food to supplements.”
ADM/Matsutani LLC’s Fibersol, a prebiotic dietary fiber, is “a notable example of a pioneering solution disrupting the marketplace and opening doors for innovative delivery formats,” states DuBow. “Due to its high solubility, low viscosity, clarity, and heat, acid, shear, freeze, and thaw stability, Fibersol can be used across categories, including dietary supplement gummies, baked goods, snacks, beverages, frozen treats, and more.”
Fibersol is also “a fantastic complementary ingredient for reduced-sugar foods and beverages,” says DuBow, noting that’s a quality that health-conscious consumers are also likely to seek when making functional product purchases.
“A recent poll of respondents in North America found that 26% indicated that food was their preferred delivery option for prebiotics, while 33% indicated that beverages were their preference,” shares Colindres. The poll showed that 32% preferred nutritional supplements, while 9% said they had no preference.9 “That shows that every delivery method has its justification, and consumers expect a range of delivery formats,” she says.
“It’s interesting to note in terms of the availability of fiber supplements, they have traditionally come in the form of tablets and tubs of powder,” muses Colindres. “However, fiber gummies have been growing more and more in recent years. Now we see prebiotic claims on many of them, and even on tablets and tubs.”
She points to individual sachets containing prebiotic fiber as additions to the market in recent years, noting they can be easily added to coffee, yogurt, smoothies, or just water. Says Colindres, “We expect that these additions to the prebiotic fiber market will continue to educate consumers, while packaged foods/beverages will also continue to increase prebiotic messaging, thus information, to a wider audience.”
New Deals, New Emphasis for Category Growth
In January, Clasado Biosciences announced a new distribution agreement with Stratum Nutrition (Carthage, MO), giving the latter exclusive rights to distribute the Clasado prebiotic ingredient, Bimuno GOS, in the U.S. and Canadian markets.
In a joint press release, the companies announced that the distribution agreement would provide Bimuno GOS with “a robust distribution channel for functional foods and beverages as well as health and nutrition brands.”
Frederic Narbel, DBA, vice president of B2B sales at Clasado, said that “with a focus on unique ingredients combined with their outstanding technical and market expertise, Stratum is an ideal partner to supply our prebiotic ingredient.”
According to Stratum CEO Micah Osborne, “We are in the age of gut-health innovation, and the commercial potential of prebiotics is significant. Their stability also makes them suitable for a wide range of applications. No longer are they exclusively used in supplements but increasingly in functional food and beverages. We are pleased to add Bimuno GOS to our ingredient portfolio as it aligns with our scientific values, and we look forward to supporting our customers in formulating their own prebiotic product ranges.”
Alexis Collins, director of product and brand strategy at Stratum Nutrition, says, “The timing of our relationship with Clasado for Bimuno GOS could not be better [as] we are seeing great interest in the industry for digestive-health biotic ingredients that can be incorporated into various delivery formats.” So, for example, she points out that a brand that started with capsules but would like to expand their formulation to powders, gummies, bars, and drinks can carry Bimuno GOS through all these concepts, retaining benefits and claims while catering to an end consumer that is becoming more and more aware of the gut-brain axis and increasingly wants to consume their supplements in different ways.
Beneo believes that “supply security and sustainability can go hand in hand” toward market growth and helping the planet. Last November, Beneo announced it is increasing global capacity for its prebiotic chicory root fibers by 30% with a $88.9 million investment into its production plant in Pemuco, Chile. Not only will that investment deliver a secure supply of chicory root fiber, it will support sustainability efforts as Beneo’s capacity increase is accompanied by steps that allow it to reduce specific energy consumption by 35%.
Can Prebiotics Surpass Probiotics, or Are They Better Traveling Together?
IPA’s Saville says, “Within the industry, [the biotics] are increasingly researched together and formulated together as probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotic combinations within products to support health. We are learning new and exciting discoveries with co-formulations among the biotic ingredients.”
“There are trillions of microorganisms in each individual at any given time, and these microorganisms comprise one’s microbiome. Thus, it’s important to ensure that beneficial bacteria are supported with optimal conditions to grow,” says DuBow.
He explains that while both prebiotics and probiotics confer a benefit for people by modulating the gut microbiota, “prebiotics are substrates (food components) that bacteria utilize, and probiotics are live microorganisms. This is also what makes them incredibly complementary.”
And DuBow likes the performance of the biotics working in concert. “The true trifecta is then bringing together prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics, with each solution complementing each other to support tailored wellness targets,” he says.
“Moreover,” adds DuBow, “combining multiple biotic solutions into one product can help support the personalized experience consumers are gravitating toward.”
One recent combo concept from ADM combines Fibersol with the company’s heat-treated postbiotic version of BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT 8145), and DE111 (Bacillus subtilis), a spore-forming probiotic, into a “Tri-Thai Sipping Broth Powder.” Just add water, says DuBow, for a delicious and convenient way to support a variety of wellness goals, with the support of a prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic.
Kristin Wilhoyte, global director of product marketing at ADM/Deerland, shares another example. She says that “PreforPro can function in both the small and large intestines and is not affected by the competing nutrients of varying gut environments. As such, PreforPro can work with a broad array of probiotic species to support the growth of healthy bacteria, leading to formulation versatility with different probiotics for a multitude of dietary supplement solutions. Plus, when combined with probiotic strains, PreforPro has shown to have the potential to support the GI tract, further helping to support consumers’ evolving wellness demands.”
Colindres concurs that “applications that combine probiotics with prebiotics appear to resonate with consumers.” She says that there is a market for both standalone and synergies when targeting the gut microbiome.
“Synergistic effects of pro- and prebiotics have been studied, and these interactions can be interesting in some applications,” declares Colindres. “Also, the combination of different prebiotics could be of interest when looking at the type of metabolites they produce and the resulting health benefits that are created.”
How much do consumers need to understand about the biotics and their workings to lean in to the biotics-combo products?
Molenaar believes that “awareness is improving among consumers. And even if some people don’t fully understand the clinical differences of pre-, pro-, and postbiotics, the message that good holistic health starts in the gut is coming through loud and clear. Consumers are increasingly turning their focus to their gut, and that will be key to unlocking further growth in prebiotics.”
Where Is The Science Heading?
According to Rehné, “The most prominent characteristic that consumers, and therefore health and nutrition brands, look for is scientific evidence of a health benefit. In today’s commercial world, consumer trust is harder to win and easier to lose, and shoppers want to know that the products they choose are backed by strong scientific principles.” Rehné claims there are over 110 scientific publications supporting the efficacy and safety of Bimuno GOS, including its effects on gastrointestinal, immune, and cognitive health.
So where does he think the science—and thus, the market—is heading? “From our perspective, there are two formulation paths that stand out as the market matures,” says Rehné. “The first is as a dedicated standalone supplement with prebiotic fiber as the main value proposition. There is real market momentum, and consumers are actively looking for gut health support, which makes it an ideal time for health and nutrition brands to explore prebiotics,” he reflects.
The second, he says, is synbiotics. According to Rehné, “The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) formally defines the [synbiotic] category as ‘a mixture comprising live microorganisms and substrates, selectively utilized by host microorganisms to confer a health benefit on the host.’”
For Rehné, that means “in essence a combination of prebiotics and probiotics in one product.” To take it one step further, he states that “notably, under its formal definition, each element must independently provide a health benefit, and each dose must be adequate to independently achieve those benefits. Synbiotics are growing at speed.”
FrieslandCampina’s Molenaar calls Biotis GOS “the most researched galacto-oligosaccharide in the world with an abundance of supporting evidence showing its efficacy in supporting gut health.”
But Molenaar, like others in the industry, is “looking beyond gut health in the traditional sense.” For example, she says there are emerging studies into the beneficial impact of prebiotic supplementation on brain and muscle health. She points to “one study [that] showed Biotis GOS could help reduce anxiety symptoms in young women.10 This area of the gut-brain axis is an interesting one, and more research is needed, but early results are very promising.”
“We’re also currently researching the effect consuming prebiotics has on athletic performance through the gut-muscle axis. This is another emerging area of research and one we’re watching closely,” advises Molenaar.
Like his industry and company colleagues, John Deaton, PhD, vice president of technology at ADM/Deerland, recognizes “the consistent evidence demonstrating that prebiotics support the growth of good bacteria.” He adds that “by enhancing the beneficial bacteria of the gut microbiome, prebiotics may, in turn, help support digestion, regularity, immune function, and more.”
“Certain prebiotics, particularly those that are fiber-based, may also be helpful in other areas,” he says.
One area that intrigues Deaton is the “ongoing research investigating the potential for prebiotics to help support the growth of good bacteria in other areas beyond the gut, such as the skin microbiome.”
In addition, Deaton says, “There is also a growing body of evidence related to the connection between the gut microbiome and different areas of wellness, such as the brain, sleep, and stress, as well as women’s health. As prebiotics help good bacteria flourish, new research is demonstrating the potential for certain prebiotics to support these emerging areas.”
As for Colindres, she shares that Beneo’s prebiotic chicory root ingredients—inulin and oligofructose—have been subject to more than 20 years of prebiotic research. She says, “The strongest science [for chicory-derived prebiotics] is in digestive well-being, calcium absorption and bone health, blood glucose reduction, energy intake, and weight management.”
A recent systematic literature review with meta-analyses demonstrated that chicory root fiber intake (starting at 3 g/day) promoted significant growth of Bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome in all age groups and improved bowel function parameters.11
According to the company’s press release, the systematic review with meta-analyses is the first study of this kind, based on randomized, controlled trials, that has investigated the effect of inulin-type fructans derived from chicory root on Bifidobacteria abundance in gut microbiota and health-related outcomes. The published study included 50 human intervention studies, with 2,495 participants.
These days, Colindres is watching for emerging science on chicory-derived prebiotics for immune health, inflammation, metabolic health, mood, cognition, stress, and anxiety.
And the area of the gut-brain axis is booming, says Colindres. “Prebiotic chicory root fibers have been found to improve stress and anxiety and improve cognitive flexibility. More human trials are currently being done to explore this axis in more detail, and it is exciting to think that we can improve our mood and be calmer by taking good care of our gut with prebiotics,” she states.
Colindres points out another area where “we also see that a key to the growth of the prebiotic market will be the research and advancement of science that show how prebiotics affect our gut microbiome and how bacterial metabolites and SCFA (short-chain fatty acids) interact and communicate with the immune system, nervous system, hormonal system, etc. Those ingredients that have science to prove their benefits will have a clear advantage in the market.”
Rehné, too, confirms that the science around prebiotics is currently strongest in the area of gastrointestinal health but agrees with his industry colleagues that “there is also rapidly developing potential in supporting immune function. With around 70% of the immune system residing in the gut, it’s no surprise that the gut microbiome is an important area of focus in supporting the body’s natural defenses.”
He’s another executive that’s geeking—in a good way—on the “future market direction of mental and cognitive health” for prebiotics. Rehné observes that “the gut and brain have bidirectional communication, known as the ‘gut-brain axis’. While there is further exploration to do, there is clear potential to support mental health through a well-supported gut microbiome.”
Educate, Communicate (Rinse And Repeat)
“As the science behind the category develops and we get a better understanding of how dietary fiber interacts with health and wellness through supporting gut microbiome health,” asserts Rehné, “new paths are opening up for formulators, and it’s clear that prebiotics are presenting substantial commercial opportunity.”
Molenaar proclaims that “while this effective category of ingredients is yet to reach the dizzying heights of its probiotic counterparts, it’s clear that interest in consuming prebiotics is on the rise.”
GPA’s Kantowski believes that “education and differentiation are key for consumers seeking any microbiome-related support product. Our 2022 ITC Insights survey found 23% of prebiotic supplement users wanted more information on the benefits.”8
Molenaar is in step with the importance of education. She voices that to help maintain the prebiotic category’s growing momentum, “brands should focus their energies on continued education. This includes communicating the holistic benefits of gut health—including targeting those consumers who want to improve their well-being but perhaps don’t know where to start.”
Education also means reinforcing the science, says Molenaar, who advises companies should “showcase the scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefits of prebiotics in a way that’s easy to understand. By including these key points in product positionings, brands can help raise awareness of the benefits of prebiotics as well as drum up interest in their own gut-health solutions.”
“While this is a complex and evolving category,” declares Kantowski, “there’s still a need to find ways to simplify messaging to break through. Infographics and factoids work well along with using analogies.”
At the same time, Kantowski urges avoiding oversimplification. “For example,” she says, “people will often describe prebiotics as food for probiotics. That is true, but prebiotics do more than that—they balance and optimize, support and feed, and increase and produce healthy bacteria in the microbiome. And we do want [consumers] to know the difference so they have correct expectations.”
IPA’s Saville reminds us that the prebiotic industry is in a regulatory flux globally, with different countries regulating prebiotics simply as fiber, or with other definitions. “Health professionals often mistakenly interchange prebiotics with high-fiber foods while expanding the confusion to consumers and media regarding what a prebiotic really is and the differences between prebiotics and the amounts innately found with food sources and prebiotics added to foods and food supplements,” she says.
Having an interconnected industry and a unified voice will create a more comprehensive approach to guidance and recommendations, through education and communication, advises Saville.
It’s a tale as old as business times. Rising tides float all boats. Competitors working together for the good of a greater cause. Growing a bigger pie versus grabbing a bigger share of a smaller pie. With so much potential for prebiotics—and their cousins—and so many interested stakeholders—the category’s future does indeed look bright.