Probiota 2020

Strategic thinking: Brilliant science is only half of the battle for microbiome success

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Strategic thinking: Brilliant science is only half of the battle for microbiome success

Related tags microbiome Probiotics Prebiotics Probiota

When it comes to commercialising microbiome-related products, having really amazing science is only 50% of the journey towards market success, says industry expert Julian Mellentin.

The gut-brain axis. Beauty from within. Weight management. Heart health. Even antimicrobial resistance and cancer. There’s a wealth of emerging research linking the bacteria in our gut – better known as our microbiome – to a wide range of health benefits.

But while all of this rapidly evolving and ever-changing science in the human microbiome is very exciting, it may mean very little if those behind the research do not also consider market applications and strategy, warns Julian Mellentin, founder of New Nutrition Business​.

"Actually doing the science is only half of it,"​ said the market expert.

Speaking to NutraIngredients ahead of his talk at Probiota 2020 in Dublin next month​, ​Mellentin added that Being comfortable with thinking about market applications and business strategy at an early stage is something that people who are intimately involved in the world of research often struggle with.

“They spend a huge amount of time and effort and money developing the science, and everyone is very skilled doing that. But the challenging thing is, that’s only 50% of what's going to make your science successful,”​ he said. “Doing the science is only half of it, the other 50% is how you engage with the marketplace.”

Probiota 2020

The rapidly evolving universe of probiotics, prebiotics and the microbiome will be propelled into the new decade at the upcoming Probiota 2020​​ summit in Dublin on February 10-12.

From advances in microbiome research, to start-up game changers, key market stats, crucial clinical science and regulatory knowledge, attendance is a must-have for those in the prebiotic, probiotic and microbiome sectors. 

Will you be joining your peers in one of the world’s greatest cities?

The matter is made more complicated by the multiple benefits – and often very different – health conditions and consumer benefits that things different probiotic strain and prebiotics are linked to, he suggested – adding that when probiotics first came to market, they were simply for ‘gut health’ and the marketing messages were easy for people to understand. 

“They can be summarised as there are bacteria in the gut, some are good and some are bad, but you can influence the balance through what you eat,”​ he noted. “Explaining how probiotics beneficially support new and less-familiar benefits such as weight management will be a more complicated story to tell.” 

Feeling the benefit

According to Mellentin, one of the most important things to do, if you can, is to deliver a benefit that people can experience,

“If you can do it. Deliver a benefit that people can feel or experience in some way,”​ he said. “That has been the underpinning of the success of probiotics and some prebiotics for the past 20 years.”

Activia's 'Feel the benefit' message, was one of the foundations of success, he said:“It's not to be underestimated how useful that is.”

However, Mellentin explained that that this isn't always possible – especially in a category where emerging science is showing links to such a wide array of health benefits.

"The question then, is how do you help the consumer understand, or demonstrate the benefit?"​ he said - noting that there are 'a couple of ways’ that companies may be able to deliver which are not being utilised in the world of the microbiome and probiotics 'yet'.

Crowded market

A key message of his talk at Probiota is to say to people “don't despair”​ if you can't do these things directly, but to also to remind the sector that “you really have to see if you can find a way of making a competitive advantage.”

Mellentin highlighted that the marketplace for probiotics and prebiotics is already crowded, but warned that competition will only become stronger.

“Nobody should underestimate how crowded it is, and how crowded it's going to be,”​ he said – adding that as microbiome-based solutions head into new territory in terms of purported health benefits, the competition from other categories will become fierce.

Julian Mellentin

“You're not just competing with other microbiome solutions anymore, you're competing with solution from lots of different areas,”​ he says.

“In weight management for example, you might have really good science that shows you deliver a weight management benefit. But you're competing with everything. You're competing with a hugely well-established weight management category, which involves green tea, and low-carb diets, etc.”

“You have to think about how you stand out in that context.”

He reiterated that delivering a benefit that people can measure or feel is ‘actually quite rare’ and is one of the key ways to stand out.

“The other thing you have to do is target the right product format,”​ he said.

“You might be very excited about the smoothie that you've created that helps people lose weight, but by choosing a smoothie format you're then not just competing in the weight management arena, but also with the smoothies category.”

“You have to figure out, how does the final product format work,”​ he said. “As scientists that can be a bit of a surprise, because everyone is working on the science.”

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