Nutrition and health consultancy New Nutrition Business asked 3,000 people from the UK, Australia, Spain, Brazil, and the US to rank some common foods as good or bad for their gut health. The results revealed high levels of confusion among consumers around the world over which foods are good for gut health.
For instance, 38% of respondents around the world said bread was the main cause of gastrointestinal distress yet almost one quarter (24%) believed it
was responsible for digestive wellness.
The survey also revealed that Brazilians' perceptions can be at odds with other regions. Over 50% of Brazilians believe plant-based milk alternatives are good for digestive health compared to a 43.6% global average.
Brazilians were less convinced about the digestive health benefits of bread (16.8% compared to global average of 24.2%) and pasta (12% compared to global average of 26%).
However, the South American country had the highest percentage of consumers who believed that breakfast cereals were good for digestive health (41.3% compared to global average of 36%). Fruit juices also performed well in the perception stakes with 72.6% seeing them as positive compared to a global average of 54%.
Consumer confusion: Obstacle or opportunity?
So is this consumer confusion an obstacle or an opportunity for gut health-positioned products?
“Consumer confusion is impacting the entire food and beverage market," said Joana Maricato, research manager at New Nutrition Business. "It’s driving a fragmentation of the market and a proliferation of niches. Gut health-positioned products can take advantage of fragmentation and see it as an opportunity to offer tailored, niche and premium solutions to consumers, focusing on value rather than volume.”
Maricato contradictory consumer beliefs around the world about which foods are good or bad for digestive health are linked to a growing mistrust in official dietary guidelines.
“Changes in dietary advice over the past 15 years have created consumer skepticism about the ‘expert’ opinions of dietitians and nutrition researchers, just at the moment that technology has made it easier for people to find dietary information for themselves,” she added.
A survey conducted by Nestlé Brazil last year, for instance, found over half of Brazilians use YouTube to learn about nutrition and healthy eating.
'For 'lifestyle' fermented foods, consumer education is necessary'
The survey also revealed Brazilians have the lowest levels of awareness for ‘on-trend’ fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir and fermented vegetables.
However, this low-level awareness doesn’t mean that manufacturers in Brazil can’t tap into the fermented food trend, according to Maricato.
“When thinking of traditional fermented foods like yogurt or cheese, consumer awareness and mainstream consumption is already happening in Brazil and many other Latin American markets,” she told us.
“But, when it comes to more ‘lifestyle’ fermented foods, like kombucha, kimchi or even kefir, awareness is still low but emerging among lifestyle and health-conscious consumers."
Originally hailing from the Caucasus region in Europe, kefir is a creamy, sour beverage produced by fermenting milk with the microflora of kefir grains while kombucha, a traditional Asian drink, is made from fermented green tea. Pickled cabbage, such as Korean kimchi and German sauerkraut, are traditional fermented vegetable dishes.
Closer to home, tocosh is eaten in the Peruvian Andes and is traditionally made by fermenting potatoes in the ground. The potatoes are usually turned into a flour and added to stews and broths.
“Brazil had one of the lowest percentages of consumers answering the ‘good or bad for digestive health’ question for products like kombucha, kefir and fermented vegetables. This reflects a lack of consumer understanding of the potential digestive benefits of these products. For companies, it means that consumer education is necessary, and they should start by targeting lifestyle and early-adopters consumers.”
That said, some major international players are convinced of Latin American potential for such products. Last year, DuPont Nutrition & Health launched new kefir cultures for the South American market, predicting a boom in demand in Brazil.
The survey by New Nutrition Business research revealed around 79% of Brazilian consumers have heard of the term probiotic, with the most associated benefits being immunity and digestive health.
What kind of healthy foods are Brazilians looking for?
Probiotic may not be the number one health benefit Brazilians look for in food and drink products, however. According to market researchers at Mintel, 51% of Brazilians it questioned were most interested in 'organic and/or natural', and would be most willing to pay more for products boasting a natural or organic claim.
This was followed closely by an interest in 'added vitamins and minerals' (50%) and 'added fiber' claims (49%).
Three probiotic strains have been approved by The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (ANVISA) for certain health claims: Bacillus coagulants GBI-30, Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 and Lactobacillus reuteris DSM 17938.
ANVISA has set a minimum required amount for each strain, below which manufacturers cannot make a claim.
Maricato warned against extrapolating the results to other Latin American regions.
Brazil tends to have “very specific food and beverage beliefs” that do not necessarily reflect those of other Latin American countries, she said.
“[Brazil] is seen many times as the leading Latam market for food & beverage trends. It is possible that some of the consumers' viewpoints identified in our survey are already present in other Latin American countries, but without further research, it is difficult to access which ones and to what extent.”