LONDON – Unilever is partnering with biotechnology company Holobiome, Cambridge, Mass., to develop food and beverage ingredients that improve mental well-being by influencing specific gut bacteria.

The partnership seeks to capitalize on the gut-brain axis where microbes within the gastrointestinal tract communicate with the brain. Facilitators of the communication are neurotransmitters that have been shown to have a stimulatory or calming effect on the body, according to Unilever.

Holobiome has identified bacteria in the gut that appear to communicate with the brain. The partnership between Unilever and Holobiome intends to identify specific food ingredients that interact with the bacteria and incorporate the ingredients into finished products.

“More than 70% of consumers are concerned that stress and anxiety are having an impact on their health,” said Carla Hillhorst, executive vice president of food R&D for Unilever. “In turn, consumers are increasingly seeking food and drink products that can have a positive impact on their overall health and mental well-being.”

The research will focus on ingredients that have a prebiotic potential.

“If we can map this out at an individual ingredient level, there’s an opportunity to make more informed dietary choices and improve health via multiple marketplaces,” said Philip Strandwitz, chief executive officer and co-founder of Holobiome. “Our platform — powered by our Human Microbiome Atlas, which contains nearly all known members of the gut microbiome — allows us to make this map for specific functions related to the gut-brain-axis. We’re excited to work with Unilever and help explore the future of food.”

The partnership with Holobiome is an example of how Unilever is rethinking the food and beverage product development process.

In May 2021, for example, Unilever announced a partnership with ENOUGH to develop plant-based meat alternatives. Based in Glasgow, Scotland, ENOUGH uses a zero-waste fermentation process to grow protein.

Another partnership announced in 2020 is with Algenuity, a company researching the viability of microalgae as an ingredient in foods and beverages. The companies are exploring the potential of bringing food containing microalgae to market.