From kimchi to yogurt, humans have been consuming fermented foods for thousands of years. With their many perceived health benefits, including aiding digestion, immunity and weight loss, fermented foods have become a choice favorite among health-conscious consumers. But in the age of COVID-19, as consumers are understandably wary of microorganisms and their potential to make us sick, how can food brands find and effectively market the right bacteria?
In food processing, fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microorganisms (yeast or bacteria) to modify or improve the health benefits of certain ingredients. Despite being around for centuries, fermented foods were only recently defined by a group of microbiologists as, “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components.”
As a behavioral side effect of the global pandemic, many consumers seeking a sense of control over their health are turning to fermented food and drinks, including tempeh, kefir and kombucha. In addition to pandemic-related growth, increased demand for fermented foods can also be attributed to the growing prevalence of obesity and digestive problems among consumers. But with the global fermented ingredient market estimated to be worth over $35.5 billion by 2023, the trend will likely outlast the pandemic. So how are food companies taking advantage of this lucrative market?
Companies that have found success in the fermented foods sector have taken transparency in labeling seriously. Take Danone, maker of the yogurt brand Activia. Advertised as a probiotic yogurt containing “One billion B.L. REGULARIS DN-173 010 friendly bacteria guaranteed per serving,” the brand is upfront about the use of a specific bacterial strain while emphasizing its safety.
Another example is KeVita, a PepsiCo-owned brand of sparkling kombucha beverages. With “Live Probiotics” printed on each bottle’s label, as well as a USDA certified organic seal, the brand highlights the use of microorganisms in its beverages and encourages consumers to discover more about their health benefits.
Smaller players, like GLK Foods, realized that some consumers were seeking fermented foods beyond the usual yogurt and kombucha. Its sauerkraut products satisfy the desire for salty snacks while offering exciting flavors like Craft Beer and Sriracha. GLK Foods’ sauerkraut labels read “Naturally Fermented,” and the company has been a leader in the market for years.
Food companies selling fermented products no longer need to market to health-conscious consumers, but rather can focus more broadly. One obstacle in gaining a larger market share in the food and beverage industry as a whole is education or explaining the “why” factor. Companies must be able to effectively communicate potential health benefits to consumers, while also reducing the worry behind the use of probiotics and bacteria. Terms such as “good bacteria” and “cultured” can go a long way.
It is not a given that all consumers will merely jump on the bandwagon — those who consume traditional foods still want to know what they’re buying. Food companies entering the fermented space should always err on the side of too much information when it comes to education. Explain the fermentation process in as much detail as possible and ensure consumers that it is safe and potentially beneficial for their health.