Consumer perceptions of biotics: the 2023 review

Expert talks

How are consumer perceptions of biotics in the new postbiotic market? Two years ago, the official definition of postbiotics was published by ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics). This definition was intended to provide a framework for the term and its uses, and ultimately encourage the popularization and extensive use of postbiotics. Butis this really the case after so little time, yet so much noise in the B2B media? This is the subject of this publication, which looks at the perceptions of biotics among consumers and pharmacists in France at the end of 2022.

ISAPP defines postbiotics as “a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components that confers a health benefit on the host“. These non-living compounds provide verifiable  benefits relating to digestive health or immunity. Prebiotics are substrates on which the bacteria of the intestinal flora feed to produce compounds that are beneficial to health. Finally, probiotics are defined by the WHO as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.

Postbiotics are still an emerging category of biotics, which explains the low level of public awareness on this subject. To find out more about consumer perceptions of biotics, Adare Biome conducted a study in partnership with OpinionWay. The survey was carried out at the end of December 2022 among 1,077 people representative of the French population aged 18 and over. It was also addressed to 200 pharmacists.

A clear knowledge gap between the three categories of biotics

The study compares levels of knowledge and awareness of the three categories of biotic. And there are considerable differences between the categories:

  • 3/4 of consumers are familiar with probiotics,
  • 1/3 of them are familiar with prebiotics,
  • And only 18% have heard of or know anything about postbiotics.

Among those consumers familiar with postbiotics, only 23% associate them with non-living microorganisms. This demonstrates a somewhat approximate knowledge of the term among the general public, rather than of the ingredient itself. We can also assume that few respondents would have been able to name all three categories of ingredients.

Finally, those consumers familiar with postbiotics seem to be more knowledgeable: they are also familiar with pre- and probiotics.

This difference is also evident among pharmacists. Postbiotics are not well known. Only 36% are familiar with them, whereas all pharmacists are familiar with and recommend probiotics.

Consumer perceptions of biotics still unclear

The general public increasingly aware of probiotics

Among biotics, probiotics are the best known. In fact, almost half of the consumers surveyed are aware that probiotics are live microorganisms that are beneficial to health – compared with just 9% who know the meaning of postbiotics. More than half of consumers believe that probiotics play a key role in restoring the microbiota, and 60% think that they can be found in food (particularly fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, cheese, etc.) and food supplements.

There is a definite link between levels of consumer awareness and exposure to the various brand communication campaigns, coverage in  BtoC media and, of course, the role of health professionals in informing their patients of the health benefits related to biotics.

The picture is very different when it comes to postbiotics. Only 13% of those questioned thought they restored the intestinal microbiota, and 19% thought they could be found in food supplements or medicines.

For those consumers familiar with postbiotics, their main roles are generally understood to be the relief of digestive problems, abdominal pain and diarrhea and are often associated with antibiotics. These are some of the answers made by consumers, but they are not entirely accurate.

Lack of knowledge of postbiotics among healthcare professionals

The results of the study show that pharmacists consider probiotics to be more effective than postbiotics: 94% of pharmacists consider probiotics to be effective, compared with 69% for postbiotics. This is undoubtedly due to a lack of awareness and the infancy of the market.

Among pharmacists familiar with postbiotics, barely 1/3 know that they are inanimate micro-organisms. And only 11% believe that postbiotics play a key role in reconstituting, balancing and maintaining the intestinal flora. The full definition of postbiotics does not seem to have found its way to healthcare professionals.

Nevertheless, the benefits of an inanimate bacterium are understood by the majority, since more than half of pharmacists recognize a resistance to gastric acidity for probiotics, compared with just 22% for postbiotics. This is a major point to emphasize when communicating about postbiotics.

Should pharmacists be involved in popularizing the use of postbiotics to increase consumer perceptions of biotics?

Current consumption of postbiotics is fairly low. 8% of French people say they have already taken postbiotics, while a quarter are unable to say for definite. If they do not take them, it’s because half of them do not know about them and a third because they have never been prescribed them.

We are convinced that communicating and disseminating advice from healthcare professionals could reverse this trend. It’s an obvious solution, given that 92% of pharmacists would be prepared to recommend postbiotics to a patient.

If postbiotics are to be more widely used, there is a need for education and communication on the subject. We also need to increase the dissemination of research data to healthcare professionals, to improve awareness and recognition.

Adare Biome has been aware of this challenge from the outset, and is already working to share information. Adare Biome’s expertise is also made available to the general public through its various communication campaigns on postbiotics. To find out more, visit the website dedicated to postbiotics: About postbiotics.

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