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Don’t just go with your gut! Considerations for effective engagement in the gut health market

Grace Binchy, Insight & Trends Specialist

The gut has never been more top of mind. Consumers are paying more attention and recent years has seen a growing number products and brands entering the category. However, as a sector its complicated and not without its challenges. In this article, we set out to highlight 4 different considerations in navigating the category which will help set food and drinks businesses up for success.


A market on the rise.

As we all know, immunity became a number 1 concern for consumers during Covid 19 and with that we saw a surge in interest in foods for immunity and defence needs.

Fermented foods as an example, increased in popularity and lockdown saw lots of people even experimenting with starter kits and making their own kombuchas.

In the US, Sauerkraut sales surged 960 percent year-over-year in the week of March 29 while overall grocery sales rose just 62.5 percent, according to e-commerce data from software firm Bloomreach. Kimchi sales, jumped as much as 952 percent in the week of Feb. 16 (New York Post, April 2020 Noah Manskar and Sam Raskin)

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The body of evidence to suggest that a healthy microbiome is fundamental to our entire wellbeing continues to be validated with many research studies emerging and many thought leaders  championing the need for good gut health management from the McFarlane Twins, the Scottish media personalities (authors of the Gut Stuff)  to Tim Spector, the UK Scientist who spoke at a recent Bord Bia Brand Forum event. See link below


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It’s complicated!

 Correspondingly with an explosion of products with gut health claims, it’s confusion from the get go.  With yoghurts and cheeses and many packaged goods such as cereals starting to introduce probiotics and now prebiotics into products, consumers don’t know what choices to make, which products to select, which are the best carriers and why. And so below we outline  some key considerations for businesses to think about to help drive success in the future.

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4 Considerations for Effective Engagement


  • Differentiation

As the sector matures, brand owners need to consider “where to play” in the category. Differentiation is critical to success. 3 key areas seem to have emerged with products playing in one of three areas: 1) mainstream needs (for e.g. defence) 2) lifestyle needs (for e.g. general wellbeing)  and 3) more medical specific needs (for e.g. ibs). Segmenting the sector this way allows businesses to think about ways to market, who to target, how to create winning and dfferentiating propositions and importantly identify the size of the opportunity. Below is a segmentation created by New Nutrition Business:

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  • The Importance of Education

Education is critical to engaging consumers.  To start with, many consumers struggle to articulate the benefits of good gut health.  Layer on the language of prebiotics, probiotics and even synbiotics and post biotics!

It’s not enough to just reference good gut health or probiotics -  understanding impact  is important (i.e. what does it mean for me?) and so clearly articulating benefits are important.

Whilst legislation in terms of claims can present challenges for businesses and packaging can also only do so much in terms of education, building stories through websites, using advocates and even providing tools to support people in understanding their own gut health are ways around messaging and engaging consumers. Brands such as Troo in the UK provide test kits that allow people to test their microbiome and start learning about their own individual gut health requirements.

As such, becoming an educational champion is a way to differentiate right now. The McFarlane twins who have published the Gut Stuff are on a journey to democratise gut health and take it out of the premium health sector into the mainstream world. Brands that can make products accessible both through messaging and price are likely to win.

As the market gets more sophisticated, there is no doubt that we will start to see products that will be designed/tailored to target individual needs -  from the menopause to anxiety. However such products will be subject to efficacy and guarantee of delivery, but the more we see the trend growing around democratized healthcare and health care that addresses specific needs of minority or niche groups, the more these groups will demand products to address their health. The ever growing conversations around periods and menopause and the rise in femtech to address related needs, will undoubtedly open the door for many new female specific food opportunities into the future.

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  • Functional foods vs natural foods..finding the balance….

Choosing the right delivery systems for probiotics is important and doing this in as natural way as possible is more likely to create a more positive impact as highlighted in recent Bord Bia research learnings.

Consumers who are more health focused typically believe in “real” food for addressing health issues. Whilst there is demand for enhancing foods with added benefits, this needs to be done with caution.  The Bord Bia Dietary Lifestyles study highlights that in Western countries, people are more partial to natural foods than functional foods. The US and China on the other hand are more likely to subscribe to functional foods. Bord Bia Consumer Lifestyle Trends further indicates that foods that can marry science and nature are likely to be the holy grail.

Marrying probiotics with other ingredients is also a way to create differentiation and a potentially stronger reason why with the consumer. Using natural ingredients to do this provides even great credibility.  A growing number of products are launching that have these “dual” benefits.  Deux as an example is a cookie dough that offers immune support through zinc and elderberry and collagen support through aloe vera and vitamin c.  Probiotics plus is likely to become more commonplace in the years ahead. 


  • Consider the channel opportunity

It’s interesting to see Direct to Consumer channels playing a growing role for products in this sector. Symprove’s success story has largely been because of their 4 week/12 week programmes delivered through their direct to consumer channel. Nourished, a UK based business manufactures a personalized gummy vitamin “stack”. As a personalized proposition, direct to consumer makes sense here. Perhaps with more product personalization emerging, we are likely to see new bespoke channels of delivery emerge too.

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There is no doubt that this is a really exciting time in terms of the gut health market, but it’s a market to enter and play in with consideration. It’s not good enough to just go with your gut! To learn more about The Consumer and the Gut and to hear about other Bord Bia studies, please contact the thinkinghouse@bordbia.ie



  • Mellentin, J (2021) New Nutrition Business, 10 Key Trends in Food Nutrition and Health 2022
  • Saven, M & Swaine L (2021) Stylus: Food & Beverage Wellness Ingredients to Watch 2022
  • Manskar, N & Raskin, S (2020) Here’s why sauerkraut and kimchi sales have surged during the coronavirus New York Post
  • Bord Bia (2022): Consumer Lifestyle Trends
  • Bord Bia (2019): What Does Clean Mean?
  • Bord Bia (2021): Dietary Lifestyles