Editorial: Gut Feeling

By Len Monheit

Last week’s launch, by Nestle Nutrition, of Good Start Natural Cultures might be more than a bit significant, from a number of standpoints. While the product contains DHA and ARA, which are becoming more commonplace in products intended for infants and younger consuming populations, this particular product contains Bifidus BL (Bifidibacteria), becoming, according to the company, the first US infant formula with beneficial probiotic cultures.

In Australia, the website describes this probiotic as ‘The Good Bug’, http://www.nestle.com.au/Products/Toddler/Neslac/Default.htm in an attempt to enable consumers to better understand the association between probiotics and gut health. This (effective benefit communication) is a challenge that has apparently been overcome in Europe and some would argue never really existed in other parts of the world. Recent proliferation of probiotic products across North America would seem to indicate that North American consumers are finally ready for this type of product, and when you factor in another market driver – demographic targeting of healthy products, including supplements, the Nestle product introduction, as well as senior and other population-targeted products can be expected to increase dramatically. Additionally, as the correlation between healthy mouth flora and overall health becomes more researched, even more interest in this category is almost a certainty, leading to more consumer education and ultimately acceptance of live ‘bugs’ in food and beverage products, ‘bugs’ that even more amazingly, will enhance your overall health.

With imminent huge category growth on the horizon, one wonders whether the lesson from other category builders is being considered in this fragmented marketplace. By this I mean, a focus on overall category-building form an education standpoint, as we saw with those companies vested in omega-3’s. Similarly, as products multiply (and suppliers), inevitably, quality issues will become paramount, and without adequate precautions being taken by category leaders, growth could be stifled by a consumer confidence backlash – or even worse, general confusion.

One hopes that this huge health opportunity is realized, and that consumers have access to high quality, efficacious products. Past history would suggest that the rise in popularity and the emergence of a high-dollar, tangible marketplace will bring out the opportunists.

So let’s cheer for the good guys, and hope that building a solid, stable and growing category is a high priority that’s supported by the industry’s best players.

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