How food and beverage manufacturers are innovating for wellness
Gut health, immunity, and overall wellness have been trending in the food and beverage space for some time. While the coronavirus pandemic has heightened consumer interest in functional diets, experts suggest that in a post-pandemic world, this “trend” is here to stay.
According to food intelligence platform Tastewise, for example, 30% more consumers are looking for functional benefits in food and beverages than they were at the end of 2019.
Gut health, which refers to the health of the microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract, is important for a number of reasons.
“Your gut is your first brain,” explained Hannah Crum, CEO of Kombucha Kamp and President of Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) at the FoodNavigator Positive Nutrition Broadcast Series. “We need to consume products that contain soil organisms…to provide the immune system with the nutrients that all the microbes that live in our body need, so that our immune system is healthy and strong.”
So how is the industry innovating to meet the demand for products that “support gut health” and “boost immunity”?
Probiotics: “Ancient Technology, Modern Wisdom”
Probiotics are microorganisms believed to provide health benefits when consumed, including improving or restoring gut flora. Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir all contain live microorganisms.
Kombucha, a fermented and effervescent tea, is also a good source of probiotics.
According to Crum, humans have “intuitively” understood the value of fermented products since “the dawn of time.” “We are thinking of [these products as using] ancient technology with modern wisdom,” she told delegates.
The majority of kombucha produced today is still based on “wild fermentation” processes, which use a “mother culture” passed down from generation to generation. At the same time, the industry has also observed innovation in ‘tailor-made crops’.
“We are really starting to understand our microbes and trying to create syntheses of different bacteria and yeast compositions to achieve specific results,” she explained.
The industry has also seen examples of prebiotics being added to kombucha. As scientific research develops, the CEO of Kombucha Kamp expects us to discover that kombucha innately contains pre- and probiotics, “as well as potentially postbiotic and symbiotic”.
Harnessing chicory root for prebiotic benefits
Innovation is also prevalent in prebiotics – the term used to describe specific plant fibers that help healthy bacteria (probiotics) grow in the gastrointestinal gut.
It is understood that prebiotics can alter the makeup of organisms in the gut microbiome.
For functional beverage brand MOJU, it was the market focus on probiotics that prompted the company to develop a prebiotic shot. The product was launched in 2021.
“If you look at the market, there are a lot of probiotic products available and there aren’t a lot of prebiotics available,”explained Ross Austen, Head of Research and Nutrition at MOJU, “especially in a plan [format].”
The ingredient of MOJU’s prebiotic blend, which is used in the product, consists of chicory root inulin, green banana powder, golden kiwi powder and baobab powder.
“We saw the opportunity in diversity. If we look at gut health, a diverse diet is integral to promoting a diverse microbiome. So if you look at the number of prebiotics, fiber resistant starches, in products and typical ingredients that individuals in the UK wouldn’t necessarily eat on a regular basis, that puts them on the right track to making better choice throughout the day.
Another brand leveraging inulin for its prebiotic benefits is Prodigy Snacks. The total total fiber content, including inulin, in any of Prodigy’s chocolate offerings is 9-10g.
“Gut health is a priority. It affects emotional well-being, it affects brain function, and it dramatically affects immunity,” Sameer Vaswani, CEO and Founder of Prodigy, told delegates at the event.
Prodigy’s approach is to take a “ubiquitous” product, like chocolate, and give it a “sense of functionality”.
For Vaswani, supplementing diets with pre- and probiotics is important, but what we do not do put into our system is also important. For this reason, Prodigy bars do not contain refined sugar, an ingredient that Vaswani considers “toxic” to the gut.
Sweeteners aren’t the answer either, we were told. Prodigy opts for “natural” sugars in small quantities, such as coconut sugar or the South American ingredient lucuma. “The combination of these products gives us a very low sugar content, but still has the nutritional and functional benefits of prebiotics.”
A complex solution to a complex problem
In particular, food manufacturers can meet the growing demand from gut health-conscious consumers by incorporating specialty ingredients into product formulations.
Dr Ashok Duby is Principal Scientist and Head of Nutritional Sciences at Tata Chemicals, an India-based company that has developed a Fossence-branded dietary fiber ingredient for food and beverage manufacturers.
According to Dr. Dubey, Fossence supplementation leads to an increase in the abundance of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
While microbiome R&D is an important piece of the puzzle, Dr. Dubey suggested industry can do more than single out prebiotics or probiotics as stand-alone panaceas for health.
“A border was created twenty years ago, [resulting in the idea that] prebiotics will do this, and probiotics will do that…
“I think that limit is [breaking down] now and we understand better that our intestinal microbiota is so complex. The foods we eat are so complex. It’s not just about prebiotics and probiotics, the solution we provide should be a combination of all of these things. »
A growing number of filed patents, which claim to enhance immunity, do just that, he continued: “They’re a combination of all those things,” including pre- and probiotics.
Since our microbes are complex, the solution to feed them should mimic their complexity. If done correctly, based on scientific understanding, Dr. Dubey believes “effectiveness will be higher”.
Faced with the “big problem”
The science isn’t there yet, and won’t be until the reactions between the microbiome and the host are better understood, suggested Anthony Finbow, CEO of Eagle Genomics.
Eagle Genomics analyzes microbiome data for companies – including food and beverage players – working in this space.
In the same vein as Dr. Dubey, Finbow thinks we need to “go beyond” thinking about individual organisms. “These organisms replicate 60 to 300 times a day. In abundant environments… they aggregate genetic content, in depleted environments they reject genetic content…
“So there is a huge challenge. The hard problem is not consciousness, the hard problem is understanding the interactions of the gut host microbiome.
Eagle Genomics has high hopes for the future. The “big companies” in food are more interested in extending the lifespan of consumers than they were before. It’s less about providing caloric content these days, Finbow continued.
“We are at the beginning of a system shift, where organizations are becoming aware of the natural capital contributions of microbiomes…
“We are at the beginning of a bio-revolution, and the microbiome is the closest [metaphoric] battlefield of this bio-revolution.
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