Thanks to Jaime Lee Curtis and her Activia yogurt commercials, digestive health has become a mainstream functional health trend and American consumers are now more aware of ingredients called probiotic cultures. Although, the health claims linking probiotic drinks to better digestive health and immunity have come under greater scrutiny and consumers might not entirely understand the differences between probiotic strains, the gut health trend is here to stay and has now expanded beyond dairy-based drink to include probiotic waters and juices.
According to Euromonitor International, significant growth is predicted for probiotics, with global sales of probiotic foods and supplements forecasted to jump 50 percent in the next five years from $28 billion in 2011 to around $42 billion in 2016. The biggest revenue generator was drinking yogurt at $14 billion in sales in 2011, and that is expected to increase 50 percent by 2016.
And, Innova Market Insights reports that the number of food and drink launches marketed specifically on a probiotic platform has climbed consistently over the past five years, more than doubling over that period.
While typically dairy drinks, such as drinkable yogurt, have been at the forefront of the probiotic trend, for instance, Danone’s DanActive Immunity probiotic drink and Yakult, have made inroads in the dairy probiotic drink market, food and beverage companies are now supplementing more everyday products, such as cereals, juices and teas, with probiotics to appeal to consumers.
“People are becoming more and more aware of how digestive health relates to overall health and we’re now moving away from the early adopters into more of the mainstream consumer, so now you can find our product in Kroger and Safeway,” says Alan Murray, CEO of Boulder, Co.-based GoodBelly, the maker of a line of dairy-free probiotic juice drinks.
Women are typically the biggest target consumers for these probiotic drinks as they are more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) than men and are more likely to experience other digestive health issues, according to Heather Biehl, manager of Wild Flavor’s Health Ingredient and Technology Solutions group. And the category is expanding to children with digestive health-related illnesses, she says.
GoodBelly hit the market back in 2008 and a significant portion of the consumer base are women with digestive health issues, says Murray. The first product was a shot-type drink and the line now includes quart-size juice drinks in various flavors, such as pink grapefruit and blueberry acai, and a fermented coconut water. According to Murray, the specific probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum229v, that GoodBelly uses has been backed up by 16 research trials indicating its ability to promote healthy digestion. And Murray credits the brand’s ongoing growth to the efficacy of that particular probiotic strain.
“Eighty-three percent of consumers we survey who try it say they can feel the effects and we have the clinical trials behind it,” he says.
Many products are now differentiating themselves based on the specific probiotic strain used and the science behind it.
Other probiotic drinks seeing success outside the dairy case include Unpeeled, a fermented kombucha drink combined with fruit flavors and containing prebiotic inulin fiber and MojoMilk, a new stick pack product that contains the patented and clinically tested probiotic blend, Bacillus Coagulans, or GanedenBC probiotic. The MojoMilk stick packs can be added to 6 to 8 ounces of milk and delivers 10 times more active cultures that yogurt, the company says.
Up until now, probiotic health claims and marketing have centered around intestinal health and immunity benefits, yet other health benefits are emerging as well, such as improving skin health. For instance, Chr. Hansen’s Probio-Tec strains Bifidobacterium BB-12 and S. thermophiles TH-4 strains have been considered successful in fighting children’s eczema and these strains are used in Vidazorb’s chewable tablets for kids.
According to Euromonitor, other applications for probiotic ingredients include functional gum and toothpaste and mouthwash products.
Prebiotic ingredients are still a relatively small part of the market, with inulin, which is derived from chicory root, one of the most popular forms of prebiotics. The use of dairy-based galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) is growing, especially in products like meal replacement drinks, energy drinks and waters, as GOS ingredients are heat, cold and acid stable. Pre Probiotic Enhancer combines organic juice with Jarrow Formulas’ prebiotic health blend with 3.5 grams of prebiotics per bottle to promote beneficial bacteria.
Health claims for probiotic and prebiotic food and beverages is under increasing scrutiny, especially in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority, the European equivalent to the FDA, has refused to approve probiotic health claims due to what it calls lack of scientific support.
One issue is that although there is a lot of science behind probiotics, the clinical studies are specific to a particular strain, so concerns have been raised that a food or beverage product health claim may not be based on research for the particular strain in that product.
Here in the US, Dannon came under fire from the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising for its Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drink brands and had to drop what was considered exaggerated digestive health and immunity health claims for its products. However, despite this setback, the Activia brand grew 16 percent last year, according to IRISymphony market data, which proves that the message that probiotics are good for you is getting through to consumers.
At GoodBelly, a consumer trial program encouraging consumers to try the probiotic juice drinks for 12 straight days with a money-back guarantee if they don’t feel the benefits has been so successful the company reached its annual goal in September, Murray says.
“We make sure we’re on the right side of whatever legislation is taking place in Europe,” Murray with GoodBelly says. “We’re extremely cautious about our product claims.” That being said, having science behind the product is critical, he says.
“Our goal is to be on the forefront of combining food and science with a product with a feel-the-effect benefit,” he says.
And, although not a probiotic ingredient, Wild Flavors offers its Tegricel ingredient that capitalizes on the digestive health trend. Consisting of milk peptides obtained from bovine colostrum, Tegricel is a proprietary blend of immune factors, growth factors and bioactive peptides that help maintain a healthy gut and create a healthy environment for optimum digestive function, says Biehl.