In fact, some dietitians and enterprising CPG manufacturers already helping patients manage their symptoms predict the demand in the US for convenient, tasty foods that are low in FODMAPs, or short chain carbohydrates that can inflame IBS symptoms, could grow to be as big – or bigger – than the current gluten-free market in America.
And considering that the gluten-free market in the US is predicted by market research firm Packaged Facts to reach a whopping $2.34 billion by 2019, that is a big opportunity.
But in order to capitalize on this potential, manufacturers will need to work with dietitians, nutritionists and researchers to educate consumers – and retailers – about what triggers IBS symptoms and how their products can provide relief.
This episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts Podcast explores what exactly FODMAPs are and what it takes for innovative firms to fully realize the marketing potential of products low in FODMAPs.
What are FODMAPs?
At the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston in mid-October, registered dietitian nutritionist Kate Scarlata, who specializes in the low-FODMAP diet, laid out the basics of the diet and its marketing potential.
She explains that FODMAP is an acronym used to describe several short chain carbohydrates that some people can’t absorb and, therefore, can cause discomfort and bloating by dragging extra water into the intestines or by rapidly fermenting in the gut, creating excess gas.
The low-FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that first takes out foods high in FODMAPs and slowly starts to reintroduce them to identify which specific short chain carbohydrates cause patients problems. Because FODMAPs can be difficult to keep track of, Scarlata recommends that patients work with a dietitian to when identifying which ones trigger flare ups. But she also notes an absolute need for packaged foods that are low in FODMAPs that patients can easily eat without fear.
FODY launches full low-FODMAP lineup
An early mover in the low-FODMAP packaged food space is FODY Food Co., a new company that claims to be North America’s first FODMAP diet friendly food brand specially designed for IBS relief.
At the company’s helm is Steven Singer, who also founded Glutino in 1999 as a pioneer in the gluten free food space – and if his work there is any indication of what is to come in the low-FODMAP category, industry can expect a big payout in the emerging category.
Singer drew several parallels between celiac disease and the gluten free movement and IBS and the emerging low-FODMAP category – including the latter’s potential for growth and influence in how Americans eat. For example, he noted that when Glutino first launched virtually no one knew what celiac was and the gluten-free movement was basically untapped. Now, gluten free foods often have their own sets in grocery stores and you’d be hard pressed to find a consumer who hadn’t heard of gluten-free, even if they might not be able to say what exactly gluten is.
Singer says he hopes to do for IBS and low-FODMAP foods, what he and others did the gluten-free category. And, while he is unsure how long it will take to achieve this goal, he is confident that the effort will be worth it.
“The say that those requiring a low-FODMAP diet will be approximately 15 to 18 times greater than those with celiac or a gluten free diet,” he said, explaining that “IBS is so much bigger” in part because it is a “bit of a catch all for different gastrointestinal conditions and digestive diseases and stuff. So, I think it is a big opportunity in terms of the reach and the number of people who will require this diet.”
But he also acknowledges that to fully realize the marketing potential, manufacturers will need to educate consumers and retailers about the value of low-FODMAP foods and how they differ from conventional options.
He plans to do this the same way he helped grow the gluten-free by working with dietitians to raise awareness about foods that can help IBS sufferers “live their life normally.”
FODY’s current lineup of low-FODMAP foods includes pasta sauces, salsa, barbeque sauces, infused olive oils, nutrition bars and perfectly portioned packets of trail mix – all food that people use every day, Singer says.
Nestle launches nutrient dense shake for on-the-go
Another early mover in the low-FODMAP space is Nestle, which showcased at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo a new drink called ProNourish.
“What sets ProNourish apart is that it is a low-FODMAP nutritional drink, and that’s maybe a new term for some people but this is a drink that is designed to be compliant with the low-FODMAP diet that has been designed for people who have digestive sensitivities,” Barbara McCartney, regional business head for Nestlé Health Science Consumer Care in North America.
She explained that the drink also is unique in that it was designed with guidance of healthcare professionals and is a convenient option that can be consumed anywhere at any time.
“We have had people tell us that they will just go through an entire work day and just not eat. Just so they don’t have to have a situation of discomfort or worse. Now imagine going through your entire work day and not eating and often doing that. That not only can take a toll on someone’s energy levels but that in and of itself creates nutritional issues if you are not getting good daily nutrition,” McCartney said.
She added, “Having something that was designed to be compliant with a diet that was meant to remove these different triggers is a solution that can be beneficial to so many people and it is the convenience aspect. It has been developed and is all in there and it something someone can know that they can bring w them on their day and have as mini meal or a snack and it fits into that low FODMAP approach that they are taking to their eating.”
Certification offers trust & marketing tool
Both FODY and Nestle have gone the extra step to get their products certified as low-FODMAP, a service offered by Monash University, which created the low-FODMAP diet about 10 years ago.
“Patients always to know which brands they should be having, but as a University we can’t be promoting specific brands unless, obviously, they are part of some formal program. So the certification program really was a way to give patients more specific information in a way we feel comfortable with” because we can be confident that the products actually are low-FODMAPs and nutritionally sound, said Caroline Tuck from the University.
She added that the University tries to avoid certifying nutritionally questionable products, including those with high sugar and high fat, “but obviously the more options we can give IBS patients the better.”
The certification also is a strong marketing tool for brands, she said. She explained that patients “just want to know what they should be eating and they want direction, so if you are given direction that is the bread you should be having or that particular product is the brand to go for, then it is going to convert to sales for sure.”
Reflecting on the market potential of low-FODMAP foods in the US, Caroline echoed a lot of what the other said in comparing it to the gluten-free movement. She noted there is huge potential for low-FODMAP foods in the US, but it will take time and education to fully meet and capitalize on consumers’ need in this space. How much time is hard to predict, but based on the market in Australia, she suggests that the trend will be fully developed in the US in about four or five years.