Both manufacturers and suppliers have been reporting soaring sales in the country for the past couple of years, but pinpointing accurate figures has been a challenge.
However, George Paraskevakos, executive director at the IPA, said new data pointed to the growing importance of the China market.
Speaking at a number events that we chaired in Shanghai and Guangzhou in recent weeks, he said: "The total global probiotic market stands at around US$42.5bn, with $17.5bn of those sales coming from APAC. However, around $8.3bn of those APAC sales are coming directly from China, which is almost 50%.
"China is now one of the most important players in probiotics at the global level."
The figures also show that the APAC market is forecast to grow by a CAGR of 8.3% over the next seven years. Yet Paraskevakos said China will continue to track higher than the average, with its market value likely to reach $15bn by 2025.
He pointed out this was due to growing consumer awareness of the benefits of probiotics beyond gut and digestive health.
"The ageing population, a growing understanding of the importance of preventive health, along with a wealth of studies showing benefits around immunity, cognitive health and skincare, are all helping with this growth," he added.
Speaking at events organised by the Health Products Association — China, HI China and SupplySide China, he stressed how it was food, and not supplements, that were responsible for much of the growth in China.
At present, 96% of sales happen in the food space, with just 4% in the supplement space. This is in contrast to the US, where supplement growth has overtaken food sales.
"I believe there are huge opportunities for supplement growth in China and APAC as a whole," Paraskevakos said. "As consumer knowledge and interest in the emerging health benefits of probiotics grow, I think we'll see consumers more willing to go down the route of supplementation."
However, he cautioned that more effective regulations, both globally and locally, would be crucial to protect consumers and the market.
"As the market grows, we are seeing more and more players come in, and not all of them are making responsible claims. That is why it is vital that we get sensible regulations, with a level of harmonisation, on a global scale."
The IPA, backed by Argentina, is currently in the process of trying to secure developments at CODEX. The process may eventually lead to the development of a Codex definition, said the IPA, as well as the possible progression to a Standard at the Codex level.
Currently, the accepted and respected definition for probiotics was established by an FAO / WHO expert panel in 2001 / 2002. However, it only provides a very general guidance for the recognition of the health benefit and consumer demand for probiotic foods, in a world where a global regulatory landscape is not harmonised.
"This is going to be a lengthy, but to our minds, an incredibly important process," added Paraskevakos.