Despite murky understanding, prebiotics market booms on general interest in microbiome health, exec says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Prebiotics are riding a wave of consumer interest in microbiome health, a sales executive says. The ingredients themselves are still poorly understood but continue to ride the coattails of probiotics, he said.

Steve Hanson, global sales director for Prenexus Health, said the market for these ingredients is robust and is growing strongly. One market research firm pegs the global market at about $5.5 billion. The market on just the ingredients side of the coin in the US stands at about $300 million, he said.  Hanson spoke with NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA.

“We are seeing about 20% growth according to SPINS and that is across 25 categories, so the market is growing quite well. There is a lot of interest in the microbiome and digestive health, and prebiotics fill that consumer need,​ he said.

Prenexus is developing a prebiotic ingredient called AmpliVida XOS Prebiotic. The ingredient is manufactured via a gentle water extraction process using a proprietary strain of high fiber sugar cane as a starting material. The organic, non GMO cane is grown in California’s Imperial Valley and the ingredient will be manufactured at a commercial scale plant the company is building in Gilbert, AZ with investment capital furnished by DSM.

Prebiotics still poorly understood

Hanson said consumers still don’t understand much about prebiotics themselves. They associate the term ‘probiotics’ with digestive health and associate ‘prebiotics’ with similar benefits. But if you were to ask consumers directly what the term ‘prebiotic’ means, few could give a cogent answer, he said.

“Most consumers understand prebiotics through probiotics. The overall awareness is low—between 10% and 20% depending on what statistics you use. We really are at the beginning stages of awareness,​ Hanson said.

One of the factors that could skew this nascent market is the potential for confusion with a plethora of ingredients now starting to claim prebiotic effects. Anything that doesn’t get absorbed easily, such as some polyphenolic ingredients, could (and some do) claim to be a prebiotic by dint of the fact that they hang around in the large intestine for a long time making themselves available for fermenting organisms. But does a hard-to-digest foodstuff necessarily feed good bacteria? Or could it foster the growth of some not so good species?

“One definition says a prebiotic is a substance that helps feed beneficial bacteria that contribute to a health benefit. We need as an industry to center on a definition that’s simple, that people understand. That’s very important,​ Hanson said.

Probiota Americas

Questions such as where prebiotics fit into the digestive health picture and how that should be conveyed to consumers will be among the things discussed at the upcoming Probiota Americas​ event set for June 5-7 in Miami, FL. This one-of-a-kind industry leading event brings together researchers, product developers, regulatory experts and marketers in one venue. For more information or to register, click here​.

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