That a Nutracon educational track is dedicated in part to digestive health is a testament to the prevalence and growth of probiotics in the marketplace. At yesterday’s session, Probiotics panel: Product Development in the Digestive Health and Immunity track, four probiotic ingredient suppliers took the stage to discuss current issues with the burgeoning market.
Top on the discussion agenda was the issue of probiotic combination strains. “Is there a place for combination products?” the session moderator, Todd Runestad, editor-in-chief, Functional Ingredients magazine, asked the panel.
The general sentiment among the panel was “possibly,” but the research is not there yet to support regulatory requirments for such products.
“Regulatory bodies are looking closely at expiration dates," said Scott Bush, vice president of Health and Nutrition at Danisco. "When you get to 16 strains in one product and you have to show that all strains are still effective in two years, we don’t have the science to do that, to look at each strain and test for viability."
Yet finished product manufacturers don’t always want to wait for the science. “We have individuals who want to see our strain made with others and make claims,” said Grant Washington-Smith, business development manager at BLIS. “But there’s no research on finished products. This is a problem because the European Food Safety Authority wants information on the finished product.”
Consumer awareness needs to grow
As ubiquitous as probiotics may seem to industry members, the term still eludes most consumers. “The term ‘probiotics’ resonates with about 15 percent to 20 percent of consumers, whereas the term ‘digestive health’ resonates with almost all consumers, “ said Armin Salmen, vice president of research and development at Next Foods.
The link between probiotics and immunity is even more tenuous for consumers, Salmen said. “You have to explain the link.” And, he added, the bottom line is that probiotics can be linked to more trips to the bathroom a lot more easily than preventing disease for the consumer.
The panel also tackled the issue of efficacy in terms of the growing number of probiotic-enriched finished foods. Runestad asked if these ingredient suppliers set manufacturing standards requiring minimum viable levels of probiotics for companies using their strains? An emphatic “yes” was heard. “We are very diligent that [bacteria] levels are adequate. I want to know that if my mother or children were buying a product claiming to have probiotics, that it would have an efficacious dose,” said Michael Bush, vice president of business development at Ganeden Biotech.
Where will consumers see probiotics on grocery store shelves next? Dairy and juices, teas and bars but probably not junk food. “Is a probiotic Ho Ho the best idea? I don’t think so,” said Ganeden’s Bush. There is the concern of consumer disconnect with an unhealthy product enriched with probiotics and “most highly processed foods go through manufacturing processes that are not conducive to bacteria viability,” said Bush.
But wouldn’t a probiotic-laced Twinkie ease the guilt?