Digestive enzyme opportunities: high protein, plant sources, pet health, and more

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 21 No. 7
Volume 21
Issue 7

While sports nutrition products remain the top market category for digestive enzymes, data show that digestive enzymes are branching off into more categories.

Photo © Shutterstock.com/Rhenzy

Digestive health is a growing market with ample opportunities for manufacturer and brand expansion. Take digestive enzyme supplements. Data provided to Nutritional Outlook by Innova Market Insights (Arnhem, Netherlands) show an 8.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the number of digestive enzyme products launched from 2013 to 2017. While sports nutrition products remain the top market category for digestive enzymes, accounting for 82% of all product launches, Innova’s data show that digestive enzymes are branching off into more categories. For instance, soft drink product launches containing digestive enzymes grew by 78% to account for 4.5% of new food and beverage product launches, according to Innova. Dairy products featuring enzymes, while still a minor trend, also saw significant growth, increasing by 57% to account for 2.7% of product launches, Innova says.

New product launches like these aren’t the only market growth indicators for supplementary enzymes. Analysts and researchers are also predicting an increase in overall market valuation. According to Credence Research, the global digestive enzymes market, which had an estimated valuation of $845.8 million in 2016, is expected to see a 6.9% CAGR for the next seven years, growing to $1.58 billion by 2025.1

As the digestive enzyme market continues to grow and more SKUs enter the category, experts say several key trends are starting to emerge. Here are just a few of the ways the digestive enzymes space is evolving.

Enzymes Gain Popularity in High-Protein Formulations

Protein supplements and high-protein products were once the domain of bodybuilders and professional athletes, but now, mainstream consumers are adopting protein as a daily supplement to their diet. With an expected CAGR of 6.3% from now until 2025, according to Grand View Research, the global protein supplement market is gaining new consumers such as women who do strength training and older consumers who want to maintain an active lifestyle.2

Tod Burgess, vice president of sales at Deerland Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA), says digestive enzymes are ideal for use in high-protein products due to their ability to break down large proteins into usable amino acids.

Says Burgess: “As an increasing number of people are taking whey protein to obtain more desirable lean muscle mass, enzymes like our branded and patented ProHydrolase become more critical. To be effective, protein must be broken down into a smaller particle size within about 90 minutes of consumption. Whey proteins are often too large to be effectively assimilated, leaving large peptides that can cause discomfort in some consumers.”

Mike Smith, vice president of Specialty Enzymes (Chino, CA), agrees, noting that enzymes are particularly useful in formulating high-protein meal replacement shakes. “Typically, adults can only digest about 2 oz of protein at a time. But athletes and bodybuilders need to consume more in order to reduce catabolism of muscle tissue. Protease enzymes increase digestion of protein and improve absorption of the resulting amino acids, which improves the nutritional value of meal replacement shakes,” he explains.

The broader adoption of protein-rich supplements and increasing consumer awareness around protein will allow proteolytics brands to gain market share as a mainstream consumer product. As the protein supplement market continues to grow, expect protein products to incorporate additional proteolytic enzymes like pepsin and trypsin in new formulations.

Plant-Based Enzymes See Substantial Growth

Smith says that while enzymes sourced from animals previously dominated the market, the trend has reversed, and today, plant-based and microbial enzymes are the norm. Animal-sourced enzymes fell out of favor among large consumer groups due to religious and lifestyle choices, he says, which is why manufacturers and brands have turned to plant-based enzymes instead.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in plant-sourced enzymes, like bromelain extracted from the pineapple stem, as well as microbial-sourced enzymes produced through fermentation,” he says. “These enzymes are suitable for vegetarians and they’re both kosher and halal-certified, which means almost anyone can take them.”

Lifestyle factors and growth of the vegan market in general are two significant drivers behind the growth in plant enzymes. Burgess points to another, more formulation-based consideration that is fueling the plant-based enzyme submarket. Says Burgess: “Plant cell walls contain cellulose, which is very difficult for humans to digest because we don’t produce the enzyme cellulase. Vegans in particular need to supplement with dietary enzymes in order to ensure they obtain all the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.”

Furthermore, plant-sourced enzymes present some significant advantages over animal-sourced enzymes when formulating an enzyme-based product. Shaheen Majeed, president of Sabinsa Worldwide (East Windsor, NJ), says that plant-sourced enzymes don’t require enteric or protective coating to survive exposure to gastric acid in the stomach. This survivability allows plant-sourced enzymes to maintain activity further along in the digestive tract relative to animal-sourced enzymes.

“Animal-based enzymes work better at a lower body temperature and a neutral-to-alkaline pH range,” Majeed notes. “But plant-based enzymes and their microbe-based counterparts are very active at higher temperatures and in acidic environments.”

Lifestyle Habits Give Enzymes an Upward Boost

Digestive health is a rapidly growing market, one that is driven by the busy lifestyles of those who consume digestive enzyme products. Data gathered by Grand View Research shows that consumer demand for digestive enzyme supplements is the result of a significant increase in the consumption of packaged food, which, in turn, is the result of a growing population of workers who regularly clock overtime hours and whose schedules do not allow for proper meals.3 Burgess agrees, noting that an unprecedented rise in the number of supplements and pharmaceuticals targeting digestive distress reflects a generational shift in lifestyle and eating habits.

“Lifestyles are hectic, and people don’t take the time to eat as slowly or as nutritiously as past generations did,” Burgess explains. “Eating quickly-and not drinking enough water during meals-puts pressure on the digestive system. Make this a continued habit and add in life stress, and it can create more instances of acid reflux, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence. That’s why we’re seeing so many digestive health products advertised on television compared to a generation ago.”

Majeed says that while lifestyle and dietary habits are generally the culprits behind all manner of digestive distress, consumer awareness around digestive health is growing. This new awareness, in turn, is generating demand in the digestive enzyme market.

“Lifestyle and dietary changes can cause any number of discomforts, but the digestive system is most affected,” Majeed says. “The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse says that 60 to 70 million people are affected by digestive health–related conditions. As consumers have recently become more aware of the impact of a healthy digestive system on their overall health, they are exploring options to support digestive health.”

Enzymes for Pet Health: Demand Drives Formulation Improvements

The pet health market is a rapidly growing market opportunity for supplement brands, with enzymes offering easy inroads for brands that have traditionally focused on human consumers. Burgess says that digestive enzyme supplements are useful for pets with sensitive stomachs or digestive problems, as well as pets that are transitioning to a new type of food. He also notes the importance of enzymes for keeping older pets healthy as they age, as aging pets tend to lose their ability to produce endogenous enzymes over time.
Burgess says that the same changes currently underway in the human protein supplement market are also taking place in the pet protein market, noting that “we’re seeing an emphasis on increased quantities and higher-quality protein in pet foods and pet supplements. Deerland’s protease enzyme blend, which is formulated to maximize protein digestion, has been of particular interest to companies developing pet supplements.”

Smith notes that canine supplements will drive the majority of digestive enzyme market growth in the pet health arena. Dogs are well known for their tendency to eat anything and everything, he says, which makes supplement delivery practical and straightforward. In contrast, other animal markets are showing resistance to digestive enzymes. “The pet health digestive market is very strong for dogs, but not so much for cats or horses. Cats aren’t terribly cooperative, and horses have a much more complex digestive system that presents challenges,” he says.

Majeed says growth in the pet health market is driven by the heavily processed pet foods that maintain market supremacy. These pet foods originate from low-quality sources and contain a high concentration of preservatives, he says, which creates stress on pets’ digestive systems.

“Just like human beings, pets are living longer,” Majeed says, “and they’re facing age-related health issues just like human beings. Consumers consider their pets to be extended family members and are concerned for their pets’ well being. That’s why researchers estimate that annual spending on pet supplements is over USD$1.8 billion.”

Beyond Digestion: Enzymes for Immune Support, Joint Health, and More

Enzymes have long featured prominently in the digestive health arena, but now, experts say enzyme products are entering new domains and featuring in formulations for all manner of wellness concerns. Majeed points to joint health, immune health, mental health, sports nutrition, and weight management as five key areas where enzymes are gaining ground.

“Undigested food material is likely to accumulate in the intestine, where it creates the right conditions for pathogenic microbial growth,” he says. “This leads to a weakened immune system. Clearly, digestive enzymes have a major role in immune health.”

Smith notes that an emerging trend involves featuring enzymes in condition-specific products. Dipeptidyl peptidase IV blends, for instance, are often marketed as supplements for consumers with gluten sensitivities. “These products can help individuals with gluten sensitivity while also protecting against hidden gluten in some processed foods,” Smith says.

Mental health is another new arena where digestive enzymes are expected to become popular. Burgess says that as awareness of the gut-brain connection grows, there will emerge new opportunities for digestive enzyme products to expand into the mental health market: “Unfortunately, people of all ages are experiencing heightened stress, which often triggers nervous tension symptoms like anxiety and gut discomfort. It’s very true that ‘we are what we eat.’”

Bright Future

With consumers gaining awareness about the importance of digestive health, the digestive enzyme arena is expected to diversify, with the high-protein, vegan, pet health, and convenience markets presenting new opportunities for savvy brands. The enzyme brands that succeed in this evolving market will be those that can pivot and offer more specialized products for each of these verticals.




Product blends: Probiotics and more

In the early days, single-ingredient products were traditionally been more popular than blends in the enzyme market, with the earliest digestive enzyme supplement consisting of a single enzyme: amylase.5 Now, however, manufacturer innovation and market demand for more versatile solutions are giving rise to a class of combination enzyme products that incorporate additional ingredients. Brands have already introduced combination enzyme-herb and enzyme-vitamin blends that incorporate ingredients like marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), elm bark (Ulmus fulva), and vitamin B12 in their formulations.

Specialty Enzymes’ Mike Smith says that one of the most popular emerging combination products is the enzyme-probiotic complex, a class of multi-enzyme supplements that includes multiple probiotic strains. As innovation in product blends continues, combination products will likely diversify.



Digestive enzymes...and brain health?

Scientists have long theorized that phenomena in the brain also has an impact on the digestive system. According to Jay Pasricha, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology (Baltimore, MD), however, the gut-brain connection may also work in the opposite direction.

Pasricha says research now indicates that poor gastrointestinal health may contribute to mood changes by acting on the central nervous system. It is for this reason, he says, that gastroenterologists sometimes prescribe antidepressants to patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Furthermore, Pasricha hypothesizes that phenomena in the digestive system may affect cognition and memory-an area that he says is fertile ground for further study.4 While further research is needed, the nature of the gut-brain connection means digestive enzymes may find an easy foothold in the brain health market.



Natural, non-GMO are key marketing claims

Deerland Enzymes’ Tod Burgess says consumers are developing a preference for non-GMO and naturally sourced products, a preference to which enzyme manufacturers should cater. “Consumers understand ‘non-GMO’ to mean ‘pure’, ‘as nature intended’, and ‘not augmented by synthetic means,’” he says. “Consumers also link purity with safety, and they believe consuming non-GMO products means their bodies don’t have to process unnatural elements.”

Burgess stresses that consumers’ desire to consume naturally sourced non-GMO products isn’t a trend; rather, he says it is a “tectonic shift” in lifestyle management.




  1. Credence Research. “Global digestive enzymes supplement market is expected to reach US $1579.5 Mn by 2025.” Published online September 9, 2017.
  2. Grand View Research. “Protein supplements market analysis by raw material (whey, casein, pea), by source, by product (protein powder, protein bar, RTD), by distribution channel, by application, and segment forecasts, 2018-2025.”
  3. Grand View Research. “Digestive enzyme supplements market analysis by origin (animal, plant, microbial), by application (additional supplements, medical & infant nutrition, sports nutrition), by region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, CSA, MEA), and segment forecasts, 2018-2025.”
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “The brain-gut connection.” Published online September 22, 2014.
  5. Deerland Enzymes. “The history of enzyme supplements.” Published online June 30, 2005.
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