China leads the global boom for probiotics

30 Mar 2022

Probiotics are experiencing a boom in global demand - particularly in China - as consumers look for functional ingredients in food and drink products that can improve their health. 

Probiotics are functional bacteria that help regulate a person’s gut microbiome by fighting off 'bad' bacteria that unbalance the system. What was once a nutritional supplement primarily associated with yoghurt and kefir to support digestion has now become an addition in a wide variety of products from cereal to juice.

China leads the global boom for probiotics

In the Asia-Pacific region, product launches with digestive health claims have grown by 23% between 2016 and 2021, according to Mintel. In 2020, China surpassed both the US and Europe to become the top global market for probiotic yoghurt and supplement sales.

In Europe, sales of probiotic supplements, probiotic yoghurt and sour milk products attained $10.2 billion in 2019, and the region accounted for nearly a third of global probiotic supplement consumption. In North America, where the probiotic market is dominated by the US, the market for probiotics is anticipated to reach $14.28 billion (€13.01 billion) by 2024, according to Mordor Intelligence.

Research explores what probiotics can improve in the body

This growth in demand has spurred the expansion of probiotic use by manufacturers. Research in recent years has explored and found links between probiotic-supported gut health and major organs including the brain, lungs and skin. Gut microbiota affect a wide range of health concerns and have been shown to also help manage inflammation as well as improve immunity.

With the effects of Covid-19 still fresh in mind, global manufacturers have had the opportunity to play to the advantages that probiotics can provide for an individual's health. Mintel research found that almost three in five US adults are seeking foods that encourage a healthy gut or microbiome. The US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service found that Americans' annual consumption of yoghurt has increased from 13.4 pounds (6.08 kilograms) in 2010 to 13.8 pounds (6.26 kilograms) in 2021.

Manufacturers invest in infusing products with probiotics

Awareness of the link between probiotics, gut health and overall wellbeing is growing, but there is still an opportunity for the market to grow if companies educating consumers about the benefits of probiotics. A survey from Danish ingredients manufacturer Chr. Hansen found that across 16 countries, 48% of respondents consumed probiotics daily or almost daily. Of those surveyed, 71% were interested in further education about the benefits of probiotics and were currently primarily reliant on packaging and online resources to deepen their understanding. 

In Europe where the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has taken a tough stance on label health claims, many consumers are searching for alternate sources of information to help them make purchase decisions. This presents an opportunity for manufacturers to educate consumers and drive interest in their products.

Twin trends: Clean label and functional health

The focus on gut health mirrors another trend: clean label. With more consumers paying attention to how microbiota can support their overall health through their gut, they have also begun to look at how other ingredients affect their overall wellbeing. As part of this trend, there has been an increase in clean-label products that are free from hormones, pesticides and artificial sweeteners and preservatives.

Sales of clean label ingredients are expected to jump from $38.8 billion (€35.34 billion) in 2021 to $64.1 billion (€58.38 billion) in 2026 according to data from Market Data Forecast.

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