KANSAS CITY — Puratos Corp. is investing in research on gut health, expecting it to become a major trend, said Alex De Los Reyes, associate product manager.

“We truly believe this is what’s next,” she said Feb. 16 at BakingTech 2021, a virtual event put on by the American Society of Baking. “This is the next plant-based.”

She gave gut health as an example of a trend in its introductory phase.

“It’s really a new trend,” Ms. De Los Reyes said. “It’s very forward thinking. Only niche players are looking there.”

While the health industry and gyms originally were big promoters of gut health, it has become more popular with consumers seeking prebiotics and probiotics.

“There isn’t as much research on this as we think, but there is a ton of money going into research now and for the decade to come,” Ms. De Los Reyes said.

Since more research is needed on gut health, including how baked foods might play a role, food companies should be cautious when making claims. Misleading consumers will be detrimental to a brand, she said, adding no single food boosts the immune system, prevents or treats infection or any other type of disease. Increasing the amount of fiber in diets will lead to a healthy gut microbiota by increasing the production of healthy compounds such as short-chain fatty acids, she said.

Plant-based is in a growth phase.

“This is where we see a huge growth in the market with a lot of exciting and forward-thinking ideas,” Ms. De Los Reyes said.

She pointed to a survey from Whole Foods Market and YouGov showing 55% of US consumers, including 63% of millennials, would like to eat more plant-based foods.

“If I had to bet on one trend for 2021, it would absolutely be plant-based,” Ms. De Los Reyes said. “We are seeing people all the way from Burger King to niche markets to artisan stores across the country focus on plant-based.”

Having a variety of plant-based products could increase repeat purchases, she said. Pairing plant-based with another attribute, such as a carrot cake rich in protein, could increase sales, too.

Clean label has become a mainstream trend, meaning “you see it everywhere, and often in popular applications,” Ms. De Los Reyes said. An obstacle appears in this category: no universal definition exists for clean label.

“Each consumer has their own definition,” she said.

She recommended achieving organic certification or non-GMO certification for products, citing Euromonitor data showing the organic bread market growing three times as fast over the next five years when compared to the total bread market.

Whole grains represent a mature category where products “can be found absolutely everywhere and in all sectors,” Ms. De Los Reyes said.

She gave two recommendations on how to stand out in this category. One is exceptional flavor.

“Focus on how you can make your whole grain bread taste fantastic so that (consumers) are excited to buy and make repeat purchases,” she said.

The second is turning to newer grains in the market, including sprouted grains, sorghum, teff and einkorn.

“To consumers they are new and exciting, and they bring flavor to products that (consumers) did not know existed,” Ms. De Los Reyes said.