Yakult's first US manufacturing plant to open in the fall, 2013

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Although Yakult was first introduced to the US in 1999, the firm started selling and marketing it in earnest in 2007
Although Yakult was first introduced to the US in 1999, the firm started selling and marketing it in earnest in 2007
The first bottles of Yakult will start rolling off the production line at the Japanese probiotic pioneer’s first US factory in Fountain Valley, CA, in the fall of 2013.

The firm, which has just completed the self-affirmed GRAS process​ for its proprietary probiotic strain L. casei Shirota​, plans to “start construction … in the summer of 2012, and plan to start operations there in the fall of 2013"​, Hideyuki Shibata, Ph.D, Vice President, Science/Public Relationsat Yakult USA, told NutraIngredients-USA.

The factory – which bosses had originally said would start production in 2012 – is a short drive from Yakult USA’s HQ in Torrance, CA, and will initially produce 250,000 bottles of Yakult a day, but could ultimately make up to 760,000 bottles a day.

It will supply stores in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, which are currently supplied by Yakult’s factory in Guadalajara, Mexico, but will also provide a platform for expansion into new regions.

USA a small, but fast-growing part of Yakult empire

While Yakult USA remains a relatively small player in Yakult’s global probiotics empire, sales have been growing rapidly.

According to figures in the firm’s accounts, US consumers now drink more than 122,000 bottles of Yakult a day (based on an average of bottles sold in the period January to September 2011) compared with 108,000 a day in the same period in 2010 and 86,000 a day in the same period in 2009.

However, this is still well behind markets such as South Korea, where Yakult sells more than 4.1m bottles a day, Mexico, where it sells more than 3.4m bottles a day, and Brazil, where it sells 1.7m+ bottles a day.

Volume slump in Europe

While more than half of its revenues are still generated in Japan, Yakult has been steadily increasing its presence in overseas markets, and has notched up strong volume growth in the US, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia this year.

Yakult, which now sells about 29m bottles of Yakult a day and is aiming to sell 30.1m bottles per day in 2013, is also conducting feasibility studies “based on the assumption of market entry​”  in several countries in Latin America, Indochina, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

However, it has struggled in many parts of Western Europe (with the exception of Italy) as competition has increased, and has seen drops in volume in the UK, Belgium, Germany and Austria.

Health claims

Studies conducted using Yakult’s proprietary probiotic strain Lactobacillus casei Shirota​ (LcS) suggested it could potentially confer a wide range of health benefits from helping to strengthen the immune system and tackle GI tract conditions such as Crohn’s disease, to reducing the risk of certain cancers, a spokeswoman told NutraIngredients-USA at the American Dietetic Association annual conference last fall.

However, claims made on pack in the US would remain pretty generic for the time being, she said. “All we say at the moment is ‘helps balance your digestive system’.”

Engagement with dieticians and health professionals is a key part of Yakult’s strategy in the US, where it has recently launched a new website at Yakultusadietitians.com​ for dieticians containing podcasts, a discussion forum and downloadable materials for patients and practitioners.

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