US consumer interest in probiotics - live micro-organisms claimed to confer a range of health benefits - is growing all the time, DuPont Nutrition & Health VP Health & Protection Fabienne Saadane-Oaks told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I think US consumers - particularly dietary supplement consumers - are extremely well educated about probiotics, and have a growing understanding that digestive and immune health are interconnected.
“The gut health message is really resonating with women, people with IBS and the elderly, while the immune health message is appealing to health-conscious consumers, the children’s health market and sports nutrition. We’re also working on next generation probiotics offering new benefits.”
The gut health message is really resonating with women
As for labeling and marketing, meanwhile, the US regulatory environment is also more accommodating than it is in Europe, where regulators have steadfastly refused to approve any health claims about probiotics despite the large body of clinical evidence, she said.
So unlike firms supplying the EU - where even using the term ‘probiotic’ on pack is now prohibited - US companies can make structure-function claims (eg. 'supports gut health/immune health'), provided of course they have the evidence to support them, said Saadane-Oaks.
“It seems like the whole world except Europe understands probiotics are science-based. But there is so much evidence building around the link between overall health and the gut microbiome that I hope they will come to their senses, so I’m optimistic.”
As for branding, she said: “It depends on consumers.
"Some people are looking for a probiotic brand they can trust [DuPont owns the FloraFIT and HOWARU brands], while others are more interested in whether they trust the food or supplement brand containing the probiotic.
"But I don’t think consumers are looking for the names of the individual strains, although a minority might be.”
She added: “We’re best known in the US for our probiotics for supplements; the category here is growing at around 12% and we are beating that rate significantly. But we also see huge opportunities for foods and beverages in everything from milk to frozen yogurt to bars, although there is still more work to do on stability in categories outside of dairy.”
Asked whether DuPont - which is focused on lactobacilli and bifidobacteria probiotic strains - plans to introduce more resilient strains that can be used in a wider variety of food applications (eg. spore-forming bacillus coagulans strains like Ganeden Biotech’s BC30, Sabinsa’s LactoSpore, and Nebraska Cultures’ ProDURA), she said:
“We may in future look at spore-formers but we’ve not [yet] identified any strains that have the efficacy - as well as the stability - that we’re looking for. For us, the science is paramount, we have to have the clinical evidence."
Ganeden Biotech: The digestive health message is probably the one that resonates most right now
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim earlier this month, Mike Bush, senior VP at Ganeden Biotech - the company behind spore-forming probiotic BC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) - said US consumer awareness would grow as probiotics started appearing all over the store as well as the yogurt and supplement aisles.
However, the notion that our bacteria affect our overall health and wellbeing is slowly starting to gain traction in the mainstream media, he said.
"You're seeing more in the press about the Human Microbiome Project , for example [a National Institutes of Health initiative designed to identify and characterize the microorganisms in healthy and diseased humans]."
Ganeden, which recently joined forces with coffee firm Copper Moon (to launch the first probiotics in a K-Cup ) and beverages firm Garden of Flavor (to launch the first HPP-treated juices to contain probiotics), now has customers using BC30 in everything from tea and coffee to sparkling drinks, frozen yogurt, bars, meal replacements, sports nutrition products and snacks, he said.
People know their digestive systems are screwed up
As for claims, he added: “The digestive health message is probably the one that resonates most right now; people know their digestive systems are screwed up from poor diet, antibiotics, hand sanitizers and so on.
“I think the immune health message has a longer way to go, and some companies are launching products making no claims at all, and just talk about probiotics.
“In our case, we sign agreements that customers use our logo, and make it clear they have to have the right dose. GanedenBC30 has been shown to support immune health at 500 million CFUs (colony forming units) and digestive health at one billion CFUs.”
As BC30 can withstand harsh processing techniques and extremes of temperature (it can be boiled, baked, frozen, pasteurized, microwaved and extruded and go on to survive stomach acid and move to the gut where it starts multiplying and proliferating), this has opened up a raft of food applications previously closed to probiotics, from hot tea and coffee to muffins, jam, soup, frozen yogurts, HPP-treated juices and cereal bars, said Bush.
DuPont acquired Danisco - a market leader in probiotics as well as enzymes and other ingredients - in January 2011.