How brands in APAC can stay at forefront of evolving gut health market?

  • Julien Bonvallet, Group Brand Director at Informa Markets

In a post-COVID world, it’s no secret that consumers are taking a more proactive approach to their health and wellness. And gut health is no different. Research shows that, globally, two thirds of consumers are seeking products to support their gut even if they’re not suffering from specific symptoms. And this trend is being observed across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, too – six in 10 consumers in China, for example, are concerned about potentially developing digestive issues in the future. The result is unprecedented demand for gut health products; data from Mintel shows that launches of food, drink and supplement products with a digestive health claim in APAC have grown a significant 23% over the last five years.

That said, there’s still plenty of opportunities and potential for innovation in the gut health market. Research into the gut microbiome and its links to other areas of wellbeing is only just getting started, opening up new avenues for the nutrition industry to explore. In fact, despite the rapid growth of digestive health claims on products in APAC, still only 2% of total new product launches have a digestive health claim. So, what trends are driving this growth, and how can brands in APAC stay at the forefront of the evolving gut health market?

  1. Holistic health is reshaping gut health awareness

The key is understanding the wider context, namely the global move towards holistic health. Expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere are not only more concerned about their health than ever before, but are prioritising multiple health areas at once rather than focusing on one issue at a time. In essence, consumers are pursuing overall wellness. And now many also understand the part that mental wellbeing plays in their health too, with equal importance to physical health issues such as heart, digestive, or immune health. It’s unsurprising that interest in mental health is on the rise in APAC – the proportion of consumers in the region satisfied with their cognitive health has dropped substantially, from 56% to 45%, between 2018 and 2021, and almost half of people in Thailand say they regularly experience burnout at work. At the same time, health-concerned consumers are becoming more research-savvy, seeking out information on beneficial ingredients and their associated health benefits in the pursuit of overall, or holistic, health.

The result? The gut, in particular the gut microbiome, is firmly in the spotlight. Educated consumers are increasingly aware of the concept – the microorganisms, including bacteria, that live in the digestive tracts – and its potential links to broader health areas. In fact, as many as two in three people now recognise that the gut is key to holistic wellbeing. Specifically, consumers now link the gut microbiome to improving immunity, with energy levels, sleep, and mood the next areas they believe to be influenced by the gut. What’s more, consumers are acting on these beliefs. Research suggests they’re actively seeking out gut-boosting ingredients, such as probiotics, to deliver a wide variety of benefits – from skin (37%) to heart health (50%).

2. Personalisation is making supporting gut health more convenient

As people become more health conscious, the efficacy of one-size-fits-all, standard off-the-shelf products is falling into question. Globally, 64% of consumers now seek tailored products, and in APAC, the proportion is even higher, with 72% of people interested in products customised to meet their specific nutritional requirements. In addition, this is being fuelled in part by a greater understanding that everyone’s gut microbiome composition is unique, and should be treated as such. In fact, nearly half (44%) of consumers interested in personalised nutrition want these products to boost their digestive health.

Personalisation offers a clear innovation opportunity in this market. Especially when you consider that two in five consumers are open to experimenting with new technologies when purchasing food and supplement products. Indeed, personalised microbiome analysis and at-home testing kits are starting to take off, but it may be some time before they’re a routine part of consumer health. When looking to other ways for brands to start to tap into this need, mastering the art of convenient product formats may provide the first step to making personalised nutrition both easy and efficient.

So what does this look like in practice? With today’s modern, busy lifestyles, it can sometimes be difficult for consumers to maintain gut-friendly diets – particularly to incorporate plenty of wholefoods or foods high in fibre. However, innovative supplements, such as gummies, pills, capsules and shots, and functional foods, like snack bars and RTDs, can all easily be incorporated into consumer diets without additional fuss, and even on-the-go. Supplements, in particular, are a popular choice across APAC for this reason – one in five consumers in the region are currently using supplements to aid their health, with supplement NPD in the region showing an annual average growth rate of +18.2% between 2017 and 2022.

Here, brands can meet consumer needs for more personalised gut-health solutions by focusing formulation efforts on convenient products that target different health areas via the gut microbiome. This may be particularly effective when combining gut-supporting ingredients with other complementary ingredients – for example, probiotic supplements with vitamin C to support the gut-immune axis, or high fibre beverages enhanced with botanicals like chamomile or ashwagandha for relaxation and sleep. And, rather than a one-size-fits all approach, brands should also consider how formulations and formats appeal to different demographics – such as shots or drinks for athletes, or smaller easy-to-swallow supplement formats for older adults. The trend for personalisation can also involve elevating the consumer experience when taking a supplement or consuming a nutritional food or beverage product. Here, supplements with eye-catching beadlets suspended in liquid, or using uniquely coloured capsules, can all add to the experience and create a ‘moment’ – turning the functional into something more enjoyable, and shareable.


3. Education is fuelling awareness of emerging ingredients

A significant 64% of consumers in APAC regularly search for different ingredients that can improve their health. As such, these as savvy consumers are increasingly aware of new and emerging solutions to support their digestive health, leading to a boom in innovative ingredient categories, such as prebiotics and postbiotics.

Prebiotics, in particular, are rapidly gaining traction as a sought-after ingredient for gut health. Not only is the APAC market for prebiotics expected to reach a CAGR 15.6% between 2020 to 2028, but food and beverage products containing prebiotics are on the rise around the globe, with more than 52,000 new products launches in total between 2012-2019. In fact, prebiotics are starting to challenge the long-established industry and consumer favourite for gut health: probiotics. Latest figures show that while 84% of consumers are aware of probiotics for gut health, as many as 57% now say they are also aware of prebiotics, too.

But to reach the heights of probiotic yoghurt fame, further consumer education is essential. Research by Innova Market Insights shows that familiarity with gut health ingredients also correlates with perceived efficacy, so more mainstream ingredients are deemed more effective by consumers. To succeed in the APAC digestive health market, brands must point marketing efforts towards education – leveraging scientifically-backed ingredients from trusted partners, and clearly explaining the benefits across all touchpoints, from online to on-shelf.

Shaping the future of health in APAC

Consumer attitudes towards digestive health are rapidly and radically changing – moving away from age-old digestive problems to an understanding of the gut’s role in achieving good overall health and wellness. But to anticipate and deliver on consumer needs, innovation, research and collaboration is essential. By working with the right partners across the entire supply chain, brands can gain insight into the latest science to drive efficacy, as well as emerging ingredients and their applications, to ultimately create effective digestive health products that enable a more connected, personal and sustainable vision of health and wellness for consumers. 

Discover the latest APAC nutrition trends at Vitafoods Asia 2022

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