“Probiotics are the ideal functional ingredient for baby and child-targeted products,” said Euromonitor analyst, Ewa Hudson. “Not only do probiotic bacteria appear to be completely safe in any dosage, but the health benefits ascribed to them also tackle some of the key health issues affecting small people - digestive problems, frequent infections, colds, ‘childhood allergies’ and other immune system-related issues.”
Brands such as Danone-owned Stonyfield Farm have developed child-specific ranges such as theYoBaby brand, which include a variety of spoonable and drinkable yogurts. YoBaby is marketed as enhancing digestion, nutrient absorption, the immune system and out-competing harmful bacteria.
Nestle, the number four player in the global $54bn global yogurt market (of which a third is pro- or prebiotic), has Munch Bunch and Munch Bunch Drinky +, a little beverage that Nestle says is a “delicious drinking yoghurt for everyday with the addition of a probiotic ingredient designed especially for kids, Lactobacillus fortis”.
On-pack messaging states: “Lactobacillus Fortis can help to keep little tummies healthy”.
Hudson suggested probiotics could become standard in children’s yogurts, especially as additional health benefits were researched and documented and began to register with parents and care givers.
While there remains much to be learnt about the way in which probiotics functioned, research indicated they could be beneficial to children’s “leaky” digestive tracts until the age of seven, a problem associated with the onset of eczema and certain food allergies.
Evidence also suggests that because probiotics feed on milk sugar lactose, they can assist in alleviating lactose intolerance.
Rising Caesarean section rates (up to a quarter in some countries) meant newborns were being deprived of “vaginal lactic acid bacteria on their way through the birth canal”. When falling breast feeding levels are added to the equation problems such as diarrhoea, constipation, colic, and allergies arise and strengthen the probiotic argument.
Probiotics also assist the uptake of other nutrients such as vitamin K, an essential nutrient that babies are naturally deficient in and which can cause internal bleeding and even death. It is for this reason vitamin K injections are administered to newborns in many countries.
“Probiotics have also been shown to increase the absorption of minerals from the gut, such as calcium, iron and magnesium. This could make probiotic products very attractive to consumers in emerging economies, where nutritional deficiencies are a major parental concern,” Hudson observed.
Given regulatory approval, claims along the lines of “with added probiotics for improved calcium absorption” are likely.
“Although the addition of probiotics and prebiotics is currently restricted to premium-positioned products, in the medium to long term routine fortification of milk formula with these ingredients is predicted to become the new industry standard, both for infant and toddler milk formulas,” Hudson said.
Companies such as Nestle have identified child-targeted functional products as a strategic priority and gut health features prominently in that.
Its Nan formula brand – the world’s third biggest – is fortified with probiotics and marketed with the strapline: “helping to stimulate the immune system and reducing the frequency of diarrhoea”.
It is set to launch a new infant formula brand containing Swedish biotech company BioGaia's proprietary Lactobacillus reuteri strand in 2009.
Prebiotics are also being used in infant formulas by major players such as Danone with Dumex Mamil Gold which claims to “stimulate good bacteria and suppresses bad bacteria”.