The Grocer blog: Daily Bread

If you asked the average Joe about the gut microbiome a few years ago, chances are you’d have been met with a vacant, confused stare. Today, the term is virtually common parlance, for which we can thank the growing trend in gut health.

Public interest and research into gut health have continued to rise in the past year, and the movement doesn’t look to be going away any time soon.

In fact, market research firm Mordor Intelligence predicts probiotic sales in the UK will rise 10% between 2017 and 2022.

The trend was exemplified at this week’s IFE at Excel London. The show played host to a range of innovations targeting gut enthusiasts, spanning prebiotic puff snacks, fermented sauerkrauts and even a new gut health testing service from Troo Foods. The brand states the testing kit, which allows consumers to track their gut health by sending their excrement to be examined at a lab, will serve to motivate consumers to achieve an optimum level of gut health and maintain this through a healthy, varied diet.

Yet despite the plethora of gut-based NPD at the show, there are opportunities in the sector that remain largely unexplored by UK food and drink suppliers.

The link between the gut and the brain is one such opportunity. Studies have shown links between a person’s emotions and their gastrointestinal tract, meaning gut functioning can be impacted by a range of feelings including anxiety and joy. 

The gut, in turn, has been shown to impact stress levels and depression. And while research and public awareness continue to grow on the gut-brain axis, a noticeable gap is emerging in the market for products offering explicit gut-brain benefits.

A rare exception is Danone’s new range of Actimel shots, one of which - a guarana variant - is formulated specifically around mind benefits.

”There is growing science around probiotics/prebiotics and the gut-brain axis,” says Ewa Hudson, an expert on gut health trends at Lumina Intelligence. ”As a result, major players in food and drink are recognising consumer demand for products that support mental health.” 

In depth: What this Tesco herbal tea tells us about ‘food and mood’

Still, products like Actimel remain in the minority. That gap is particularly surprising considering the current boom in mood and mind products in other areas of fmcg.

The raft of CBD-based innovations at IFE (ranging from coffee pods and soft drinks to snack bars and protein balls) would have come as no surprise, but several brands stretched into lesser known functional ingredients in their mental performance NPD. 

Wow Drinks’ new natural energy drinks tout nootropics (a substance linked to improved cognitive functioning) on the front of pack, and are set to roll out into 375 Asda stores later this month. And Sweet Revolution’s new superfood latte range includes a Chicory Latte barista blend containing Lions Mane, which could protect against dementia as well as relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

With products promising gut health benefits or a boost in mental performance on the up, the market is ripe for more NPD that offers both. And with the two so closely linked, for many existing products this would only require a marketing tweak.

The question now is: who will be ready to step up to the plate?