This was the observation of the Probiotics, Prebiotics and the Microbiome expert panel at our recent Growth Asia Summit 2022 event in Singapore, which comprised IFF Regional Application and Technical Support group leader, AP, Dr Anders Henriksson, Junlebao Nutrition Research Institute Director Celia Yibing Ning, Haleon NPD Brand Lead, Wellness, Deepapriya Velumani, and A*STAR Principal Investigator Dr Sumanto Haldar.
The panel discussion was hosted by the Editor of NutraIngredients-Asia, Tingmin Koe.
According to the panel, focusing on the health benefits of products is the key to consumer acceptance.
“The fact is that consumers will first pay attention to their own problems first when looking to make any purchases, and then only the products and the ingredients,” Ning told the floor.
“So the first thing they are going to look for is always what is the benefit of the product and what function it can serve to align with what they need, which means that the attention will always be on the function and benefit of the products before they even want to look at the ingredients.
“This also means that when it comes to designing the product or the packaging for the product, all of this must be taken into consideration no matter whether we are talking about prebiotics, probiotics, probiotics or anything else in this space.”
Velumani added that product formats can also play an important role here, especially when it comes to attracting consumers from different demographics.
“Consumer versatility in product acceptance very much depends on the life stage actually, for example younger consumers tend to want more enjoyable options such as gummies,” she said.
“But when it comes to more traditional consumers, the tendency is still towards capsules, and these are still the most widely-accepted as many feel that the value proposition is strong and the safety and efficacy are also perceived to be higher.
“Being able to assure consumers that the probiotics are being delivered in the most efficient and safest manner tends to make marketing much easier.”
This was seconded by Dr Henriksson, who noted that capsule interest has been continually on the rise when it comes to prebiotics, probiotics and other such products.
“Traditional formats are continuing their dominance even though there has recently also been interest in formats like drops, confectionary products like chocolates and beverages,” he said.
“One factor that needs to be considered here is that the format used needs to closely consider the strain of the bacteria, as well as how sensitive it is to heat and other elements around it.
“This could be the best and most effective strain of bacteria around, but sensitive to the elements, and thus will need to be put in a capsule [for high efficacy] even if there are other new product formats around, as this will make it easier to control its activity and the environment.
“If the bacteria in question is a tougher, more tolerant strain then there are of course more options available, but this is not always the case.”
Challenges in microbiome product formulation
Although there is no doubt that consumer interest in prebiotics, probiotics and other microbiome-related products has been on the rise especially over the past two years when everyone wanted to boost their immunity, there still remain significant challenges when it comes to product R&D and commercialisation.
“Many parents want to get probiotics suitable for young children, but this is an area where clinical studies can be the most challenging as recruiting infants takes a lot of time,” Ning said.
“This is especially so when it comes to worried mothers and us being unable to promise definite positive results after the study.”
Dr Henriksson added that there are also researchers that are not spending sufficient time on preclinical trials and the selection of the right base strain to research, resulting in a lot of unproductive time and effort poured into strains that have little chance of a good clinical outcome.
Commercialisation was seen by the panel to be an even more complex matter, especially when it comes to the regulatory environment in the region for the sector.
“Across multiple markets in say Asia, any one strain is unlikely to have the same ability to make claims across the board – maybe for some probiotics there may be overarching claims for gut health, but it is hard to expand from that,” said Velumani.
“The thing is that we need to be able to make the claims to relate the benefits to consumers – if not we’re just pitching these as health foods but not able to communicate efficacy chains and give more information which would make the real impact.”
Other ingredients for gut health
In addition to directly using bacteria to improve the microbiome, special focus was also paid to other food ingredients that can help to improve gut health.
“To improve microbiome diversity, regular everyday food ingredients can also help such as spices – nutrition is really a very important pillar for pre-, pro-, or postbiotic effectiveness,” said Dr Haldar.
“Our studies have shown that there is a nexus between nutrition, healthy probiotics and the gut microbiome, and we have seen that things like spices and blended oils e.g. rice bran, sesame, flaxseed, and so on all lay a role in positively modulating the microbiome.”