Prepared Foods Exclusive: Embracing the Digestive Health Movement
The successful marketing of probiotic yogurt products such as Activia and Yakult means that U.K. consumers are more aware of the importance of digestive health issues than ever before. Terms such aslactobacillus casei immunitasandlactobacillus casei shirota, which at one time would have mystified consumers, are now becoming more widely understood. New research from independent market analyst Datamonitor shows that this is only the beginning of the digestive health movement. “Consumers are now more knowledgeable regarding digestive health and are seeking out more ways of safeguarding their health with functional foods,” comments Mark Whalley, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor.

This is good news for the millions of Brits who suffer from digestive complaints such as heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In 2008, nearly 12 million people complained of heartburn, and this figure is expected to rise to almost 14 million by 2013 (amounting to nearly a quarter of the population). Similarly, just under 10 million people suffered from IBS in 2008, with a predicted increase to 11.5 million by 2013. It is no wonder then that so many people are looking for solutions to their problems.

Mark Whalley explains, “The real success of these products has been the way in which consumers have adopted them for a ‘daily dosing’ routine.” The daily consumption of a probiotic yogurt allows people to feel that they are combining a healthy boost with a delicious treat. However, the industry faces a tough challenge in justifying prices at a time when consumers are looking to save pennies.

Trust also continues to be an issue for Brits, with only 27% telling Datamonitor that they firmly believe the claims that these products make. This is not surprising given the fact that digestive health has only recently become a mainstream issue in U.K. society. In Asia Pacific countries such as Japan, the idea of drinking a daily Yakult is a far more normal and accepted part of life. As time goes on, the same culture is expected to develop across Europe and North America.

Manufacturers are responding to interest by incorporating probiotics into more foods that people eat everyday, including desserts such as ice creams and even tomato ketchup. Even more, prebiotics, the lesser-known cousin of probiotics, are finding their way into a number of products, including breakfast cereals. It is this ease of consumption that is making digestive health regimes so appealing.

The future of foods and beverages which claim to improve digestive health looks promising. “People find these products appealing, and more importantly, they like how they taste. Digestive health has strong links with immunity health, which means that consumers feel better after eating their probiotic yogurts. This is what keeps them coming back for more. It’s therefore likely that, looking forwards, digestive health products will go from strength to strength,” concludes Whalley.

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From the July 20, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition