Probiotic, when you break the word down to "pro" and "biotic," literally means "for life." For many consumer packaged goods companies, probiotics have been the bonus ingredient that is the foundation for healthy product innovation, and beautiful profits. As we reported in our November market overview issue, probiotic sales were up nearly 40 percent this year in mainstream markets, and 15 percent in the natural channel, according to SPINS data.
Tip ’o the hat to Dannon for breaking trail here.
But before I go further, it is important to note the larger story about Dannon, which has grossed north of $300 million off its yogurt brands DanActive (for immunity) and Activia (for digestive health). The larger story is that Dannon was ordered to pay up to $45 million to settle a lawsuit over misleading claims on its probiotic-infused yogurts, which sell at a 30 percent premium over other yogurts. The incriminating line in Dannon’s advertising was: "Clinically proven to help naturally regulate your digestive system in two weeks."
Attorneys told ABC News earlier this year that other probiotic manufacturers were not sued because they put disclaimers on their products.
Across the pond in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority is demanding that marketing copy for finished products must align with scientific studies documenting those effects – on the finished product, and not, significantly, on the individual ingredients. Why? The food matrix matters, for one – it can change the activity of nutritional bioactives.
Suppliers are getting their scientific dossiers into shape in order to pinpoint specific health benefits with specific probiotic strains. But research is still quite in its infancy.
Here’s a great example. Say you want to use Bifidobacteria lactis Bb12 in a product marketed to support immune function in adults. As a starting point, there are 113 published studies using B lactis Bb12, with 35 of those human clinicals; and of those 17 target immunity; and nine without any additional probiotics or prebiotics; and all of zero on healthy adults (most are done on elderly or infants). So, whaddya got? A tall order!
In this issue, we show some of the supplier research on probiotics as it specifically relates to digestive health. The literature review begins on pg. 36. For an up-to-date report on the immunity sector, including but certainly not limited to probiotics, turn to pg. 24.
The trick for manufacturers is to use supplier science as a starting point. If you want to do business in Europe anyway, you must then allocate resources to conduct human clinical studies on your finished product. No small expense, that. Back here in the states, while the evidence/marketing threshold is lower, you still need to have appropriate qualifiers on your marketing copy. It also pays to be diligent with your supplier to make sure the evidence base on specific strains – not all probiotics are created equal! – matches your marketing claims.
The truth is out there. For careful companies, profits are out there. But so, too, are lawyers and regulators. It may take a few more years, but I’d put my money on science.
Letter From the Editor: Functional Ingredients, December 2010