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Making the microbiome accessible to millennials

In 2017 Lisa and Alanna MacFarlane started The Gut Stuff to bring gut health science and nutritional information together for the millennial generation. We spoke to Lisa about educating consumers and marketing products in gut health.

What was your aim in starting ‘The Gut Stuff’?

Our main aim in setting up ‘The Gut Stuff’ was to democratize gut health. 

Our aim is to make gut science more widely accessible. Previously in the UK, a lot of the publications talking about the microbiome were not necessarily publications that would be read by a younger or lower socio-economic audience. We want to make the science of gut health accessible, and to prove that it wasn’t all about detoxes and probiotic magic bullets; that in fact, all of the solutions and ideas about good gut health are affordable and possible for everyone.

We also realised there was a gap in our healthcare service, whereby people with digestive issues are not always picked up because our doctors don’t have the training in nutrition. When we first set up the site, we quickly realised we were catering to two very distinct audiences. There is an audience interested in general wellbeing who come to learn more about the microbiome, and people with digestive issues not being catered for by the healthcare system.

We are trying to educate the consumer in a realistic, efficacious, and engaging way in a world where the science is both incredibly exciting and new. Equally, we are thinking about how we could bridge the healthcare gap for digestive issues and get millennials thinking about prevention and wellbeing.

What challenges have you faced when seeking to make microbiome science accessible to more people?

One challenge is the way the press sensationalise new research e.g. the gut-brain axis. It is a really exciting area of science and we’ve been meeting leaders in the space like John Cryan. However, mental health is multi-factorial with nutrition being just one factor. We’ve partnered with Anxiety UK to make sure whenever we speak about the gut-brain axis we are doing so ethically and responsibly.

Another challenge is making the science and especially the terminology engaging: just saying the words ‘short-chain fatty acid’ can make people switch off! We find that we have to give people the facts in a way that is arresting to pique people’s interest, and then when we have their attention, ensure that the information we give them is correct. We have a compliance department and a team of nutritionists, dieticians, scientists, and GPs to ensure that we have multiple voices guaranteeing that everything we say is completely correct.

What have been your major successes?

The amount of organic traffic we have been able to generate online shows how interested the general population is on this topic. We get thousands upon thousands of unique viewers on our website each month without ever having paid for advertising. It is really exciting to see that people are coming for different reasons because they want to know more about the microbiome and gut health.

Also, it is very exciting to be involved in scientific conferences like the Microbiome & Probiotics R&D & Business Collaboration Forum: Europe. It shows the need for a consumer voice bridging the gap between research, industry and the consumer. Although we haven’t come from the scientific field, we can still add benefit because we know how to get consumers interested.

What has been your experience of marketing products based on microbiome science?

Baseline knowledge is the biggest challenge. For example, people still don’t really know what probiotics are and there are lots of products that aren’t backed up by any evidence. It’s a really difficult landscape where the consumers get very mixed and confusing messages. 

For us, it’s been about empowering the consumers with the knowledge to decide for themselves which products are efficacious or not. We give them tools like the hierarchy of evidence or teach them how to go on PubMed to type in different strains of bacteria. We never want to be prescriptive but to enable them to decide for themselves which products to use.

Lisa MacFarlane is Co-Founder of The Gut Stuff.

The 7th Microbiome and Probiotics R&D and Business Collaboration Forum is Europe’s longest-running and largest Microbiome meeting. Click here to register today.

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