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Len Monheit, executive director of the Global Prebiotic Association, and Per Rehné, CEO at prebiotic ingredient supplier Clasado Biosciences, describe key developments coming down the prebiotic pipeline.
As the health and nutrition sector continues to evolve in response to changing consumer demands, brand owners and their formulators are exploring news ways to connect with a more proactive health audience. One of the most exciting avenues of exploration is in the development of prebiotics.
Prebiotic fiber nourishes beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome—which, as contemporary scientific research shows, can support key areas of digestive and non-digestive health. As the global appetite for better gut health increases, the stakes are rising to improve the versatility and stability of prebiotics.
The increasing potential of prebiotic functional ingredients is reflected in market growth. Intelligence firm Precedence Research projects a very strong compound annual growth rate of 13.25% for prebiotic ingredients to 2030, by which time they will reach a value of more than $20 billion.
So, what lies ahead for the prebiotics category in 2023? What can health and nutrition brand owners expect? Here’s where we foresee the greatest opportunities.
More Than Just Fiber
As one of the most rapidly expanding categories in nutrition, prebiotics present an enormous number of opportunities in new product development. It’s clear that shoppers are getting switched on to the benefits of prebiotics and the wider advantages of gut and microbiome health, so the coming year is a case of keeping up this momentum—and not just making knowledge more widespread but building on it. One of the key trends for 2023 will be building on the idea that prebiotics are more than fiber.
Using the word fiber is an easy way to clue consumers into what prebiotics are all about, but we know from today’s exciting health science that prebiotics go far beyond “just” fiber. We should be amplifying the message that not all prebiotics are fiber, and not all fiber is prebiotic.
Consumers are becoming more aware of prebiotics now and learning that there are different types of prebiotic sources available. To help drive that understanding, the Global Prebiotic Association (GPA) is publishing an updated definition of what a prebiotic is based on the consensus of experts. GPA defines a prebiotic as a product or ingredient that is utilized in the microbiota, producing a health or performance benefit. Furthermore, a prebiotic effect is “a health or performance benefit that arises from alteration of the composition and/or activity of the microbiota as a direct or indirect result of the utilization of a specific and well-defined product or ingredient by microorganisms.”
It’s clear that the health industry has moved towards the concept of personalization in recent years, and it’s likely that this will extend to the field of prebiotics moving forward. We expect to see precision prebiotics gain a great deal of traction in the coming year. We will continue to see research in this area—and, as a result, the development of products designed to target highly specific types of bacteria. This, in turn, could see a move away from more general “catch-all” prebiotics to more selectively utilized types.
The Rise of Synbiotics
As we look ahead to what the coming year may bring, we must acknowledge the continued growth potential of the synbiotics category. Perhaps one of the most abundant commercial opportunities for health and nutrition brands, synbiotics combine prebiotics and probiotics for a “best of both worlds” approach to supporting gut health. We have already seen great acceleration in the number of new synbiotic products entering the market, and we anticipate this to continue apace. Consumers are recognizing that while prebiotics are important for supporting a thriving gut microbiome, there are more options than prebiotics or probiotics alone.
Broad Health Benefits
For formulators, it’s a very exciting time to be involved with prebiotics. Consumers are getting switched on to the benefits of better gut health, and we are gaining a better collective understanding of what our gut bacteria are capable of. Thousands of years ago, the “Father of Medicine,” Hippocrates, reportedly said that “all disease begins in the gut.” While we now know that this was somewhat of an exaggeration, we are certainly seeing that the gut plays a vital role in maintaining physical and mental health.
We anticipate further expansion of consumer understanding of prebiotic benefits in 2023. Typically, consumers recognize prebiotics’ benefits with regards to gut health and digestion, but today we have a much stronger foundation of science in development. Naturally, this filters out to public awareness. Consumers are beginning to appreciate the extended advantages of a well-supported gut microbiome, including immune health, athletic performance, and overall microbiome health.
One of the biggest considerations for brand owners is how consumers are choosing and using health products. Whereas previously supplements were predominantly chosen when there was a particular health challenge to be solved, there has been a marked move toward better everyday health. We saw this first with the rapid expansion of daily multivitamins, and it’s likely that we will see this continue into other supplement areas.
For the coming year, there will be a big emphasis on how a better-balanced gut microbiome can support non-digestive health areas. For example, immune health support has been on the agenda for formulators for a long time, but we are just now uncovering how the gut microbiome can support the body’s natural lines of defense. With 70%-80% of the body’s immune cells residing in the gut, it’s clearly an area of importance. A comprehensive array of studies shows that prebiotics can play a proactive role in supporting immune health, which has come to the fore of public consciousness since the pandemic. As a result, we are expecting to see further growth in the use of prebiotics in immune health product formulations in the coming year.
Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications
Another important shift is that we’re seeing, for the first time, a close look at the potential of prebiotics in more medical and pharmaceutical applications. This is a change we have been following with interest, particularly following a European Food Safety Authority positive opinion on the use of Clasado Biosciences’ Bimuno GOS in Food for Specific Medical Purposes (FSMP) applications. Following the positive opinion, the European Commission, which oversees the Union’s list of Novel Foods, updated the entry for galactooligosaccharides (GOS) with the addition of FSMPs. The inclusion of GOS in FSMPs supports an approach for indirectly tackling malnutrition in hospitalized patients when gut microbiome dysbiosis is a common factor.
This marks another important step forward for the category. We will hopefully see prebiotics play a more central role in direct health applications.
In 2023, the commercial opportunities available to prebiotics are set to accelerate further. It’s an ideal time for formulators to explore prebiotic ingredients and discover how simple it can be to create consumer-led health and nutrition products that connect with the needs of today’s market.
Over the coming year, we will also be paying close attention to the changing regulatory landscape as the product category possibilities expand. At present, regulatory bodies classify prebiotics under fiber, and in some cases do not recognize prebiotics at all. This is an area we expect to see change as the science expands and the market continues to gain momentum.
Two important shifts should stay on the radar for formulators. First, prebiotics are making the leap from being a more niche ingredient into the mainstream. Shoppers are now more aware of prebiotics and their benefits, which means we’re more likely to see prebiotics and their benefits featured in advertisements and on packaging.
Secondly, as we continue to advance the category and new science is developed, the potential for prebiotics to connect with the health needs of consumers will only grow. As such, it’s an ideal time for brands and their formulators to explore the manifold benefits of prebiotics.
What’s clear is that the prebiotic category is on the rise, driven by surging consumer demand and expanding global awareness of gut health. The message for brands in the health and nutrition space is clear: prebiotics offer a versatile and effective tool for consumer-led new-product development.
About the authors
Per Rehné is CEO of prebiotic ingredient supplier Clasado Biosciences. Len Monheit is executive director of the Global Prebiotic Association. The Global Prebiotic Association is the leading awareness body for the expanding prebiotic category. The organization champions awareness, education, affordability, and the effectiveness of prebiotics. In addition to compiling in-depth consumer surveys to generate new market insights, the GPA provides key learning resources, such as webinars and infographics, in addition to hosting the annual Global Prebiotics Week event.