Strategies of the Probiotics Industry

17 Jun 2013

The probiotics market is thriving, and will continue to thrive, because consumer acceptance and knowledge outweighs the difficulties of obtaining official approval for claims. Today’s hectic lifestyle is increasingly linked to digestive health issues. Numerous external influences including stress, travel, illness and antibiotic use may disrupt the intestinal microbiota – potentially leading to diarrhoea and […]

Strategies of the Probiotics Industry

The probiotics market is thriving, and will continue to thrive, because consumer acceptance and knowledge outweighs the difficulties of obtaining official approval for claims.

Today’s hectic lifestyle is increasingly linked to digestive health issues. Numerous external influences including stress, travel, illness and antibiotic use may disrupt the intestinal microbiota – potentially leading to diarrhoea and discomfort. The concept of probiotics has been embraced by Western consumers for decades – and for centuries in the Middle East and Asia.

However: the industry is in a chicken-egg scenario. Are consumers aware enough of the benefits? Or must we invest further?

Huge investments in clinical trials have not delivered the desired on-pack health claims for the mature European market, and, over the last five years, more than 100 clinical trials have struggled to find the model that will convince the approving authorities.

Today’s evidence on gut recovery after diarrhoea and other incidences affecting gut microbial homeostasis is undisputed. However, this addresses a therapeutic, rather than a health-promoting, role for the normal healthy average consumer. The best evidence that may convince the authorities may be in immunity-weakened, very elderly consumers – which also represents a significant market segment.

In Ireland, the word probiotic is no longer ‘tolerated’ by the Food Safety Authority, as probiotics, by definition, provide health – and this is not an approved, substantiated claim.  However; consumers still buy their yoghurts and probiotics tablets for travelling, and the market continues to soar. Probiotics are appearing in increasing numbers of innovative new products around the globe.

In the ingredient industry, we’re very preoccupied these days with semantics. The good news, though, is that we at Canadean have found, after screening approximately 10,000 articles from news, blogs and social media, that this word is deeply rooted and cannot be eradicated overnight by legal experts.

By analysing 10,000 articles, blogs and commentaries written by experts, wannabe experts and laymen in the four main languages (English, Spanish, Mandarin and Hindi), we found that approximately 70% originated in North America, 17% in Asia Pacific, 14% in Europe and just 1% from Latin America. Ratings according to sentiment showed that 62% were positive and 28% negative – so the state of the industry is not as bad as the industry may think itself.

Further scrutiny indicates that consumers have reached a stage of education where they are starting to look at the benefits, with discussions of gut, infection and immunity, as well as strains. We found that Lactobacilli are the most positively discussed probiotics across all the continents.

Findings like this raise reflections on the probiotics industry’s overall strategies. Is more science necessary – or do consumer sentiment and stage of education count for more? Does an on-pack claim or general education about gut health, as Yakult has been practising for a long time, create better business growth conditions than the legal and scientific route?

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