The gut health experts at Zoe have bottled their decades of nutrition research and created a “first-of-its-kind” gut shot that launched in partnership with UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) in the new year, creating a healthy dose of intrigue and excitement.
The kefir based shot contains 5 billion live cultures from 14 different strains of bacteria (from the genera Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus rhamnosus), mixed with fruit puree, baobab fruit pulp, chicory fibre, and fruit and vegetable extracts.
The product’s packaging boldly spotlights the link with Zoe, putting science front and centre in its communications strategy. And the strategy appears to be working as the team tells NutraIngredients that initial metrics reveal its been one of the biggest volume launches in M&S, and the product is “flying off the shelves”.
“Gut health and an optimal gut microbiome are vital for our overall health,” Tim Spector, Zoe co-founder and genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, explained. “Increasing the fibre in our diet and introducing fermented foods such as kefir are evidence-based ways to help our gut microbes keep us happy and healthy.
“At ZOE, we are passionate about giving people simple tools to improve their gut health. Thanks to our partnership with M&S, everybody can add fermented food and fibre to their daily life in one easy gut shot.”
Commenting on the launch, Louis Bedwell, managing director at CPG and FMCG consultancy Mission Ventures, notes that the shot, priced at £2 per 150ml bottle, is significantly more expensive than other ready-made kefir drinks on the market.
But he describes the partnership between the retailer and science platform as “genius”, utilising Prof Spector as “a credible and recognisable force” to sell a product in a notoriously tricky marketing arena.
“I think this will create a wonderful opening for start-ups to flood the market,” he told NutraIngredients. “Big marketing spend is a huge lever to build new categories. This is a big step forward for gut health as a macro-trend.”
He also applauds the product’s “killer in-store activation” and the big spend on above-the-line media support which would help draw interest from the retailer’s audience of affluent and health-curious shoppers.
Bedwell further notes the potential for this product to evolve the conversation around ultra-processed foods, with Prof Spector known to point out health concerns associated with packaged food and drink labelled with ‘health halo’ claims.
Responding to this, the Zoe team tells NI: “When creating the gut shot, we wanted to maintain the food’s natural structure by using high quality ingredients and zero artificial preservatives, sweeteners, emulsifiers or stabilisers. As the gut shot is a fermented product, the packaging chosen is the best option to maintain the quality of the ingredients and provide the public with the effectiveness they were made for.”
Providing his thoughts on the potential impact of the NPD, Peter Wennström, founder of food and health branding agency Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), suggests that this launch may also open the doors to more science-first food and beverage innovation.
“It is quite the opposite to Yakult and Actimel who tried to introduce probiotic daily shots with product first and science education second, a strategy that was killed by EFSA,” he notes.
Increasing consumer demand
A spokesperson for M&S says the collaboration with Zoe is in response to customer demand for easy gut health solutions. The company’s own shopper survey indicates that 76% of M&S customers are aware of gut health as a concept but only 39% have a good understanding of exactly what it is.
At the same time, the online retailer Ocado, which sells M&S produce, has seen a 247% increase in searches for ‘gut health’ on its site since 2021, leading M&S to assert that “2024 is the year of gut health”.