Will you ditch the Percy Pigs for Marks & Spencer's new gut health drink ,a collaboration with the Zoe nutrition programme? We raced down to the launch to do some shots
You've worn the bright yellow blood sugar monitor and done the Zoe diet poo test, now drink the M&S Food x Zoe Gut Shot. The high street's favourite posh food store has partnered with Zoe - the personalised eating health app co-founded by Professor Tim Spector, which counts Davina McCall as an ambassador - on a new health shot to boost your gut microbiome for 2024.
Arriving in stores at the exact moment that many of us were trudging back to work, full of healthy eating intentions after a fortnight necking Quality Street, the M&S Food x Zoe Gut Shot, is a kefir-based drink, made from whole fermented milk, with strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrant and baobab. The latter is an African citrus-tasting fruit that’s packed with antioxidants and vitamin C. We tried it at the launch event, attended by Spector and GTG contributor and Zoe nutritional scientist Dr Federica Amati, and found it perfectly pleasant - not too sweet and pleasingly tangy.
Designed to be taken as a daily shot, it contains five billion live cultures from 14 strains of gut-friendly bacteria (other probiotic drinks on the market tend to contain around two or three). “Gut health and an optimal gut microbiome are vital for our overall health,” says Spector. “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.” This product launch is, he says, a way of "making gut health part of the mainstream conversation", as currently only 1/3 Brits are even aware of the concept.
It's not designed to replace breakfast, says, Amati - at 90 calories per 150ml serving it's "not a meal. I drink it on the go or add it to my breakfast yogurt bowl." Amati points out that it differs from competitors in that it has a decent dollop of fibre from the fruit (3.3g per serving) and no added nasties - no sweeteners, no flavourings, no emulsifiers, no additives. Which makes sense - the Zoe team consistently warn of the dangers of ultra-processed foods so they were hardly likely to create one for their first retail foray.
The collaboration came about after Ocado, which stocks M&S food, noted a 247 per cent increase in ‘gut health’ searches by customers over a two-year period. M&S Food duly approached Zoe and the two companies spent a year developing the drink. Is this the first of many joint products, I wonder? "Never say never," says Spector coyly. I guess if anyone can create a UPF-free, healthy ready meal that actually tastes good, it's these guys.
How much does the M&S Food x Zoe Gut Shot cost?
The shots are sold individually and cost £2 from M&S Foodhalls or online via Ocado.They might prove a cost-effective way of dipping in a toe for the Zoe-curious, given the Zoe nutrition programme costs £299.99 to join, and then £24.99 each month for access to its app.
What is the Zoe programme?
You may not have done the personalised eating programme yourself but you’re likely to have seen people at the gym or on Instagram (such as Davina McCall) wearing a distinctive yellow Zoe sticker on their arm, underneath which is a continuous glucose monitor. You wear this for a fortnight to measure how your blood sugar levels respond when you eat different foods, as part of the induction process to Zoe, which is a personalised nutrition programme but also a large-scale research programme. The at-home initial testing period also involves you submitting a stool sample and a fingerprick blood test, and logging exactly what you eat for two weeks.
The results are then crunched into a huge bespoke report (more than 100 pages) that rates hundreds of different foods according to how they best suit your biology, plus a breakdown of all the bacteria, good and bad, in your gut microbiome. You can then use this detailed knowledge to tweak your diet for optimum gut and metabolic health on an ongoing basis, using the Zoe app, which is crammed with advice and recipes.
As you can see from our Get The Gloss tester’s Zoe diet review, it can be life-changing.
Zoe launched in 2022, having amassed a waiting list of 200,000 and to-date 100,000 have signed up. Zoe has won £80m of investment, including from Dragons' Den’s Steven Bartlett.
Who is Professor Tim Spector?
The professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College came to public attention during the pandemic with his Zoe Health Study, an app in which four million people logged their covid symptoms, which was pivotal in helping scientists better understand the virus.
Spector, 65, is also the author of The Diet Myth and Spoon-Fed and in his early career was known for his studies on twins, which showed that even genetically identical siblings have completely different gut microbiomes and respond differently to different foods.
The M&S Food x Zoe Gut Shot: our verdict
The shot certainly tastes good - and that's obviously key for a product designed to be taken daily. It's tastier and less cloyingly sweet than other probiotic drinks I've flirted with in the past, such as Yakult and Activia.
It is obviously far cheaper to make your own kefir at home, rather than fork out £60 per month (£2 per day) on these shots but I can see the appeal of grabbing one on the go if you're time-poor or not confident in the kitchen.
However I must take issue with the amount of plastic waste created - I already take a turmeric shot each day and wince at the sight of the little bottles in my recycling bin. Can I bear to double that quantity? They considered glass bottles but the emissions would actually have been higher, says Amati. However a 500ml plastic bottle for drinking at home will launch soon, which will help mitigate the problem.