Thursday, December 16, 2021

Getting Gutsy in 2022


Sitting in the dentist chair this week for my regular cleaning, the hygienist started lecturing me on gut health instead of telling me how to floss. Imagine how thrilled I was when she explained how the probiotics in yogurt decrease the pH in the mouth and this helps prevent bacteria from forming plaque. (I believe more research is required in this area, but it was refreshing to know it is part of the dental office conversation.) She even went on to discuss the role of good bacteria and gut health and the overall impact on immunity. At this point I think she could have said I needed a root canal and I still would have been as excited as a kiddo on Christmas morning. 

Research shows consumers understand the benefits of probiotics. The pandemic fueled their interest in immunity and gut health. When a dental hygienist chooses to discuss probiotics versus flossing, I think it is safe to say that the time is right to make foods for gut health a priority.

A few weeks ago, The Hatchery held its Annual Fundraiser and Dream Commercial Pitch Competition. The virtual event featured Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle, CEO and cofounder of Ixcela, a health and wellness company that helps individuals improve their internal health. She explained how a properly balanced gut microbiome improves energy levels and mood, supports the immune system, and even helps to protect us from other health issues. 

This 11-minute TED Talks is similar to the discussion that took place at The Hatchery event. I highly encourage watching it. Link HERE.

I believe gut health will be the leading mega trend of product innovation this coming year. It includes positive nutrition and may complement other mega trends, such as global inspiration, convenience and better-for-you indulgence. (Lifeway’s new Chocolate Truffle Kefir covers a few of these trends.)

“66% of global consumers say they have become more conscious of their overall health as a result of COVID-19,” according to FMCG Gurus. 

Positive nutrition is all about maximizing intake of healthful foods. Consumers want products that deliver on multiple wellness benefits, including gut health, energy, healthy aging and mental health, a.k.a., positive mood. 

Julie Smolyansky, president and CEO of Lifeway Foods, followed Dr. Ebbel Angle. She explained how “kefir” comes from the Turkish word “keif,” which means feel good.  

“People simply feel good after drinking kefir,” she said. “The connection between the gut and the brain is incredibly strong.

“Staying relevant is the #1 thing for legacy brands like us,” said Smolyansky. “Innovating constantly is very important for us. Innovation is also communicating with communities.

“Staying ahead of trends is important,” she said. “You have to consistently get the word out about science. Bringing wellness to people through food is so important.” 

Happy Gut = Happy Mood. Please commit to marketing gut health in 2022. It might be gutsy for a traditional dairy, but I can promise you that the plant-based and animal-free fermented products will be active in this space.  

And, in case you missed this on the plant-based category, here’s a statement from the National Milk Producers Federation that was issued on Dec. 6, 2021.

Dairy Defined: Tough Times Arrive in Fake-Food Land

The hype couldn’t last forever.

No matter how many celebrity funders are brought on board or “next best thing” pitches are made to launch a product, eventually, over-the-top marketing comes back to bite, and that’s what’s been happening in the world of fake food. Here are a couple recent examples.

Oatly, the darling of the plant-based beverage set, lost one-fifth of its trading value in one day last month after warning it wouldn’t meet revenue expectations. As is the fashion of the day, Oatly blamed the pandemic and supply chains, but the simple truth is, consumer demand isn’t what it was earlier hyped up to be. Third-quarter sales in the Americas, expected at 40 million liters a month, fell short by 3 million.

The company is facing quality control issues as well, with a recall in its native Sweden for potential loose metal in its products. Of all the ingredients seen in plant-based beverages, “loose metal” would be among the least desired, and that’s saying a lot. Oatly’s trajectory toward making oats and chemicals America’s drink of choice is falling like a lead balloon – evidence of that via a battered share price, which has kept falling since the bad news was revealed, is a welcome sign of marketplace sanity.

Beyond Meat is another case study in facts can complicate an all-too-perfect narrative. Last month the company had to dramatically lower its expectations for revenue growth, using the pandemic as a cover for a consumer market that’s fizzled much faster than anticipated. Share prices fell accordingly, and like Oatly’s, they keep heading down. Beyond Meat isn’t in the fake dairy business (though it’s made rumbles), but it’s all the same story in animal agriculture, with so-called “innovators” making a short-term splash, then fading with their ad campaigns.

None of this, to be sure, means these companies are going to disappear. Overpriced, flavored plant water has been around for four decades, and while we still wonder why anyone thought they could improve upon the venerable Boca Burger, Beyond Meat has carved its niche. Consumers want variety, and consumer attraction to alternative products is something P.T. Barnum would have found completely understandable generations ago. Though we regret their effects on public health and the environment, fake foods are likely to proliferate even further, as test tubes and fermentation labs bring new imitators that will employ the same sales tricks as their plant-based predecessors. The imposters, it’s safe to say, are here to stay.

What doesn’t need to stay are lax labeling standards and consumer misinformation. A market functions better when it’s transparent. That’s true at a local supermarket as much as it is on Wall Street. This principle is becoming even more important in dairy as where-your-food-comes-from questions become even more crucial to consumer trust and honest marketing.

Over time, promotional flim-flam gets found out, and investors and the public learn that The Next Big Thing isn’t what it was cracked up to be. But the process would move more quickly--and less painfully--if consumers held a clearer understanding of true food “innovation” and better tools for identifying what a food is and what it isn’t. The sooner the puff-up-and-bust cycle is recognized, the more consumer dollars will be better directed toward more nourishing products, the ones that will survive the ups-and-downs of food fads and cash grabs.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Donna,
    I love the idea of transparency in labelling. Can you describe ways to make that happen? How would you accommodate differences of opinion on the health value of ingredients? This would be worth at least a panel discussion including the FDA if possible. Thanks for bringing it up. Gary Smith