Wising Up To That Good Gut Feeling

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Asia Pacific drives the global market for probiotic dairy. Consumers are ready for a wider range of probiotic foods to support general health and reduce their risk of disease. By DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences.

Healthy living has a lot to do with a large colony of gut-friendly bacteria—this is increasingly known and accepted in Asia Pacific and around the world. So much so that consumers are now looking beyond traditional probiotic dairy products and dietary supplements for their good gut feeling. Bolstered by influential regional brands and the rise of DNA testing kits that advocate personalised nutrition, the growth forecast for the Asia Pacific probiotic market is onward and upwards, with masses of potential for food manufacturers to jump aboard the probiotic wagon.

A brief glance at Euromonitor’s overview of the probiotic cultures market for yogurt and sour milk gives the general picture. While global volume sales grew 3.7 percent a year up to 2018, in Asia Pacific annual growth averaged three times higher at just over 11 percent. The region is expected to continue leading global growth both in size and volume for the entire forecast period up to 2022.

Although dairy is still the dominant category for probiotic claims, probiotic products have become increasingly visible since 2014, notably baby food, beverages, desserts and ice cream, bakery and snacks, and breakfast cereals. China, South Korea, Australia, India and Vietnam feature among the world top 10 countries for probiotic product launches.


Preference For Food, Not Supplements

Consumer trust in natural fermentation has helped the trend thrive from the beginning. According to Susan Jin, Shanghai-based regional industry leader for DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, consumers easily see the link between probiotics and fermented food. The difference from a consumer perspective is that, while the fermentation process influences taste and texture, the addition of a probiotic culture does not.

The possibility to consume probiotics in everyday food is also preferable to taking a dietary supplement.

“Despite the rapid rise in sales of targeted probiotic supplements in powder, capsule, tablet and oil drop form, people in this region prefer not to take them if they can consume probiotics in everyday food and beverages that give them the same health benefits without losing good taste and flavour. For them, it is way better if probiotics are incorporated in functional foods,” Jin explains.

“The challenge is that probiotics are less visible in non-fermented food than when they are in a colourful capsule or sachet. Manufacturers must make an effort to ensure consumers recognise the probiotic content and that it makes a difference—not to the taste or texture but to digestive comfort and general wellbeing.”


Successful Research Communication

One of the companies that has made an impact in this respect is Japanese Yakult, which is behind volumes of research studies that explore probiotic benefits for human health. Yakult’s successful communication of the findings has not only raised consumer awareness, it has also strengthened and expanded the Yakult dairy brand. Yogurt rapidly became the first home of probiotics as a result.

Research has today highlighted many positive effects of various bacteria strains on human health—digestive, immune and cognitive benefits among them. Nevertheless, national legislation will always regulate the extent to which brands can make a claim about health.

“Each country has different regulations for health claims. But, whatever the rules, it is still possible for manufacturers to use the probiotic name and cell count as a content claim, which many consumers accept as being good for their health,” Jin says.

Alternative Carriers Revealed

Efforts to take probiotics beyond yogurt to other foods have uncovered a number of suitable carriers.  Chocolate, biscuit fillings and ice cream, for example, have all proven unproblematic in stability tests that focus on probiotic viability during shelf life. In dark chocolate, food scientists have tested inoculation with probiotics as a supplement to the healthy antioxidants that are already naturally present. The results show a level of probiotic survival that meets viability standards in storage with no impact on flavour or texture.

Jin outlines the most important aspects of ensuring a stable probiotic outcome: “Moisture and temperature are key to maintaining an acceptable probiotic cell count in food products through shelf-life, which means ensuring the bacteria strain and carrier are a good match, along with the food processing parameters. Manufacturers will need to work with their probiotic supplier to understand this.”


The Dead Or Alive Conundrum

Although probiotic cultures are by definition live bacteria, there is a growing tendency in Japan to market probiotic foods where the cell count is either insufficient to achieve a clinically proven health benefit or killed during processing. According to the Fuki Keizai 2019 market report, dead cell ‘probiotics’ have even become a driver of market growth, used in a wide range of food products such as ice cream, bakery, candy, rice crackers and seasoning.

A major reason for the dead cell trend is the difficulties that food manufacturers face in keeping probiotics viable during processing and storage. This is why the ongoing research to develop more stable probiotics is crucial to keeping the global probiotic sector credible and on track. Probiotic encapsulation is among the promising new technologies that have emerged, allowing live cell inoculation of products such as bread dough prior to baking. Opportunities like this bode well for a future where consumers will expect to buy probiotic variants of a wider range of foods and beverages.

Jin comments that, from a health perspective, a live culture is essential: “Multiple studies have compared dead versus live cells. Although a few of these studies have demonstrated benefits from dead cells, the research on this is far behind that of the well-documented benefits of live probiotic strains; there is next to no interaction with the human body via the gut. It is also important to keep in mind that according to the World Health Organisation, in order for a product to be labelled as a probiotic, it must contain live microorganisms. Therefore, we ensure the cells we use in our products are not only alive when we study them and put them in our products but also are robust enough to survive through end of shelf-life in order to bring about real health benefits to our consumers.”


Acting On Genetic Risks

For manufacturers, there is another good reason why they should not give up on live cell cultures. That is the rise of DNA test kits, purchased by consumers who want to learn their genetic predisposition for specific diseases and how they can reduce such health risks by making the right nutritional choices. Because of this, probiotic foods will surely become even more popular in the years ahead.

A report published by Transparency Market Research in May 2019 states that, alongside the US, China and Japan are booming markets for DNA test kits—clearly highlighting a great opportunity for food companies to support consumers with personalised nutrition.

Increasingly regarded as a vital organ that is key to good health, the gut microbiota is an obvious area of focus.

Armed with more information about their individual health needs, consumers will make even higher demands of the food industry moving forward. For manufacturers of probiotic foods and beverages, success relies on their ability to communicate the health-enhancing difference their chosen culture makes. As Yakult has long since demonstrated, the opportunity to develop and expand new probiotic brands is within grasp. But it will take innovative products and well-considered branding strategies to win a share of the continuing probiotic growth.

  1. Probiotic products have become increasingly visible since 2014, notably baby food, beverages, desserts and ice cream, bakery and snacks, and breakfast cereals.
  2. China, South Korea, Australia, India and Vietnam feature among the world top 10 countries for probiotic product launches.


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