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Special edition: Gut health

Supply: Gut health supply low-down

By Shane Starling , 16-Oct-2008
Last updated on 29-Oct-2008 at 11:38 GMT2008-10-29T11:38:47Z

In the third installment of this gut health series, prebiotic and probiotic supply issues are examined.

Prebiotics

The chicory root is the major source of prebiotic ingredients. Inulin and oligofructose are the two major ingredients sourced from the root that is mainly grown in Belgium and Northern France where the world’s ‘big three’ suppliers are based.

Beneo-Orafti, Cosucra and Sensus dominate the market and supply almost all of the world’s inulin and oligofructose. Orafti also sources from Chile where it opened a facility in 2007 to shore up its supply and meet growing demand for its prebiotic offerings.

Products sold with prebiotic positioning are worth many billions of dollars globally depending on which analyst’s data you are looking at.

Prebiotics function as catalysts to stimulate the growth of probiotics or healthy bacteria.

The big three

Globally, Orafti dominates with about 50 per cent of the market, with Cosucra and Sensus claiming about 25 per cent each.

About 80 per cent of prebiotic launches employ inulin and oligofructose with most categories represented and bakery and dairy prominent.

There are others such as polyols like polydextrose and resistant dextrine that are coming to market on the back of their prebiotic potential, but these represent a newer development and they don’t possess the level of scientific backing inulin and oligofructose enjoy.

However, these forms account for a small but rising share of the market and have the benefit of being backed by major players such as Danisco and Tate & Lyle.

The ‘big three’ have commissioned something like 50 studies between them. A Cosucra spokesperson said approval of health claims expected within the next year or so will clarify the situation and define those ingredients that can call themselves probiotic.

It is expected relatively strict criteria will apply. See yesterday’s story on gut health regulations for more on this.

The major players say there is enough excess capacity to deal with growing demand for the foreseeable future.

Energy, transport and other material costs have seen prices increase with Orafti announcing a 25 per cent increase earlier this year.

The Cosucra spokesperson said the company had put into place green practices at its plant that included producing 70 per cent of its energy needs on-site.

Material was coming onto market from China at a trickle, but industry had raised concerns about its quality.

The market had been buoyed by the likes of Nestle that had branded its prebiotic offering under the name Prebio1, which had broadened the appeal and level of education of prebiotics although the Coscucra spokesperson admitted there was still some way to go to match the levels achieved by probiotics.

Probiotics

There are hundreds or thousands of probiotic strains but not all of them are produced to commercial levels.

Of those that are, most are seeing an abundant time as probiotic products such as yoghurts, drinks and supplements have boomed in many markets as their gut health and immunity benefits have been extolled.

Pricing varies depending on the strain and the quantities at which it is bought, but there have been across the board input costs in energy and transport that have affected most.

But probiotic fortification could be achieved at around one euro cent per serving in some cases.

Leaders such as Danisco, Valio, BioGaia, Lallemand Nutritional Food Products, and Chr Hansen have reported health sales for their probiotic wares for much of this century and beyond.

Such abundance has attracted players that have marketed strains that do not have the clinical backing possessed by some of the more established players. Industry members spoken to for this article have stressed this has been and continues to be damaging if consumers are buying products that don’t work.

For this reason, people like Lallemand Food’s business director Europe, Bruno Delattre, said the health claims legislation in Europe was welcome because it would help industry clean up its act. Such claims would also be welcomed in North America.

“It will sort between the serious and the not so serious,” he said.

Technical advances

Advances in formulation technology meant probiotic ingredients were breaking out of their traditional dairy area and into products like juice, bakery and bars. While shelf-life varied depending on the matrix, some non-fresh products were achieving shelf-life of one year or more.

As scientific backing came in, more strains had the potential to be brought to market and this process could be vindicated through the health claims process.

Delattre said his company tended to release probiotic strains in combinations for greater efficacy, but it depended on customer needs and the particular matrix in question.

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