Fast-paced Italians swell probiotic market

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Probiotic

The Italian probiotic supplement market is the largest in Europe -
even outstripping America - and it is still ripe for further
expansion.

Trust in probiotics' ability to boost immune and gut health is driving the market, which opens up new opportunities for companies who want to expand their probiotic supplement range into new countries. According to Euromonitor, the already massive market grew from $203m (€143m) to $310m (€219m) in just five years. The market is heads and shoulders above Europe, with the closest continent contender coming in as Belgium, with $15m (€10.6m) sales last year. By contrast North America recorded $293m (€206m) sales. Euromonitor analyst Eleni Grammenou told NutraIngredients.com that Italians have a strong belief in the supplements efficacy. She said: "One of the main reasons for growth in Italy is that consumers really believe in the benefits they can offer. They are actively taking them in order to improve their overall immune system and digestive system, so they offer a plethora of health benefits."​ "I think we have to put it down to consumer awareness, and it could be that they are recommended by the doctor or by friends and family." ​ The pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis accounts for about half of the massive sales last year, but there is room for growth. Grammenou said: "The market seems quite consolidated, but other companies could make it. A lot will depend on advertising and whether they too are recommended by family, friends and doctors." ​ In Italy the market is expected to grow to $396m (€279m) by 2011 - a rise of 28 per cent. Another factor of growth has been put down to Italy's ageing population, as older people are more likely to have digestive problems, she added. "But also a lot of people are turning to preventative care, nobody wants to get ill, they want to stay healthy and buy food which can help," she added. ​ Euromonitor's data also shows that Italians are big on probiotic yoghurt, which accounts for some $588m (€415m), and grabs a 91 per cent share of the total functional food market, compared to America's $572m (€403m). Recently companies have been looking at ways to add probiotics into foods outside of yoghurt. Already Chr Hansen has rolled out a probiotic in the country contained in Ciambello cheese. The company said it was aimed at the Italian market because of the countries' interest in buying cheese and a growing public awareness of diet-related health benefits. On the other hand, businesses could turn their attention to North America, which by 2011 is expected to outgrow Italy, rising from 2006's $293m (€207m) to $509m (€359m), a 74 per cent growth. Grammenou said: "Canadais relatively low in terms of probiotic supplements, most sales are in America. The growth is predicted mainly due to the pace of lifestyle." ​ Probiotics are live bacterial strains that are generally understood to deliver digestive benefits in the gut. Dairy foods, including fermented milks and yoghurts, are among the best accepted food carriers for probiotic cultures, which are frequently limited to refrigerated foods as they are sensitive to heat, humidity and other harsh conditions.

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