Valio strikes Chinese probiotics deal

One of the world's largest probiotics suppliers, Finland-based Valio, has linked up with one of China's biggest dairies to launch a range of plain and drinking yoghurts fortified with Valio's patented LGG probiotic bacteria strain. The Inner Mongolia-based dairy, Yili, has additional product launches in the pipeline including a line of LGG-fortified fruit yoghurts.

Yili LGG yoghurt is available in 125g, 200g, 500g and 950g tubs, while the LGG drinking yoghurt comes in a 200g daily-dose bottle.

Finland's Valio opened a Shanghai-based subsidiary in 2001, and has been present in China since 1987, mainly supplying demineralised whey powders as well as end-products such as cheese and butter. Its new deal signifies the development of the functional dairy segment in China, whose yoghurt market is growing at 40 per cent annually and has been boosted by a government campaign urging citizens to increase dairy consumption.

"The customers that buy LGG products are normal people who are interested in having some healthy ingredients in their food," said Dr Zhanyou Yun, vice director at Yili's Technology Centre. "Probiotics have been on the Chinese market for over four years now and this type of functional food is growing in popularity."

It is estimated about 10-20 per cent of Chinese yoghurt products now carry probiotic ingredients.

The Yili LGG products list eight functional properties of the clinically backed LGG strain on their labels. These are: improves the growth of beneficial bacteria in the body; balances and improves the function of the gastrointestinal tract; improves immune ability; removes toxins; prevents dental caries; decreases the incidence of infection; prevents and helps to cure diarrhoea; and prevents allergies.

Valio became only the third foreign company to be granted the Grade A Green Food Label, which signifies product safety and environmentally sound production methods.

Valio's partnership with Yili, its 18th international licensing agreement, follows other European functional dairy ingredients suppliers into the Chinese market.

Danish cultures specialist Chr Hansen formed an alliance with another large Chinese dairy, Mengniu, in late 2005, while Arla, Danisco, Fonterra and others are supplying functional dairy ingredients into China.

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