“Consumers are hearing all the buzz around fiber and prebiotics and probiotics, but many don’t know what they do besides maybe helping them be more regular,” and they don’t know which foods offer the right types of fiber to improve their gut health, Angelo De Blasio, director of consumer marketing and innovation, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo earlier this fall.
“So, there is clearly a high level of education that is needed” before shoppers understand the benefits of a new product like Freedom Foods ’BarleyMax, and retailers are willing to take a chance stocking it, he said.
“You can’t just expect to create pretty packaging and put it on the shelf at a low price point and expect to sell it, which is something we learned quickly when we first launched through one of our first customers,” he added, explaining: “We thought people would just walk in and see the product and everything would be fine.”
But that wasn’t true, he said.
“Even with a lot of work through traditional mainstream media, we weren’t seeing the results we wanted. And it wasn’t until we began working directly with registered dietitians in stores and at their practices in communities and through more grassroots efforts that we were able to drive sales and value for our retailers,” De Blasio said.
“We realized that for marketing to work it is not all about trying to find a Dr. Oz or someone you have to pay millions of dollars to,” he added.
“Rather, it is about finding someone who can actually access their community, get on their local television shows and work directly with people in stores or through webinars hosted online that you start to see an instant change not only in the way that people understand the product, but in how they consume it as well.”
Working with dietitians to implement a ‘gut reboot camp’
One way that Freedom Food is working with dietitians to help spread the world about the benefits of Barley+ products is through a 28 day ‘gut reboot camp,’ which the company first piloted with 12 ShopRite stores in New Jersey.
“The 28-day gut reboot camp is a health and lifestyle program which uses the American Dietary Guidelines as a base, and which advocates for the consumption of Barley+ products as one way to meet the recommendation for consuming whole grains,” De Blasio said. “So, we simply ask people to substitute their regular breakfast for a serving of our Barley+ Muesli or nutrition bars and to get five minutes of incidental physical exercise, such cleaning or walking around the block, each day for 28 days.”
The RDs help keep consumers on track and share additional information from Freedom Foods, such as a cheat sheet outlining the differences between prebiotics and probiotics and what foods have each.
“With help from RDs we were able to recruit thousands of women throughout the US to take part in this lifestyle program, including 1,000 to 2,000 women per market,” De Blasio said.
The 28-day gut reboot program has not only helped Freedom Foods expand sales, but it has also helped the consumers who participate in it, De Blasio said.
“We trialed the 28 day gut reboot program in Australia last year and independently assessed research showed that the lifestyle program over 28 days resulted in some pretty significant weight loss and improved BMI, he said.
“One of the most interesting things to come out of it was a positive mood elevation,” he added. “There is a lot of talk happening now in research about the gut-brain access, which they are actually calling psychobiotics – so the management of your mood and mental wellbeing through food consumption”
While research is still exploring the connection between the gut and brain, De Blasio explained at one level the impact of a healthy gut on mood makes instinctual sense.
“It is not really that confusing when you think about how when you are regular you feel lighter and are able to move more and those can make you feel happier,” he said.
Three ways dietitians helped the brand
Beyond the re-boot program, De Blasio said RDs have helped the brand expand its reach in three distinct ways.
“The first is that we recognize that RDs in America are probably the most relatable and approachable practitioners … who also are everyday people who have a fantastic ability to communicate. So, they are not caught up in a whole bunch of scientific jargon. They want to get the facts to consumers in a way that consumers are going to understand,” he said.
The second benefit is that RDs often have strong relationships with the press, including local television news and talk shows – giving them a platform from which they can further magnify the company’s message.
“The third way we are using them is online through our online platforms, including our websites, Instagram, Facebook and other sites where the shoppers who are using Freedom Foods can ask questions and feel like they have their own personal RD, but without having to pay for it,” De Blasio said.
Talking to consumers directly
Freedom Foods reinforces the messages that dietitians are delivering through the claims on its packaging, De Blasio said.
“From a consumer point of view, we sort of summarize on the package that the products have three different fiber types and … that one is soluble fiber, which helps keep you full for longer, one is insoluble fiber, which helps keep you regular, and the third is resistant fiber, which feeds the good gut bacteria,” he said.
“It is really about bringing the consumer on a journey that doesn’t overwhelm them, but plays to the relevant fact that we do not have great gut health in this country and people want to feel better,” he said.
As for the products’ role in psychobiotics, Freedom Foods simply says in its tagline “feel positively good, which speaks to the physical and emotional benefits together,” De Blasio said.
What are prebiotics?
According to prebiotic guru Professor Glenn Gibson* from the University of Reading, UK, a prebiotic is a “selectively fermented ingredient that results in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health.”
In simpler terms, prebiotics are gut-friendly plant-based fibers which resist digestion in the small intestine and arrive in the large intestine where they are fermented and stimulate the growth of ‘good bacteria’ by giving them something to eat. (This is in contrast to probiotics, which are live microorganisms.)
*Gibson, G. R. et al. Dietary prebiotics: current status and new definition. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods 7, 1–19 (2010).