US probiotic-food movement growing

Energised market spurs increased push by Probiotics Council

United States Responding to the increasing acceptance of probiotics by North American consumers, the National Yogurt Association (NYA) has formed a group to promote and support the gut-health enhancing, cholesterol-reducing and immune system-boosting bacterial strains.

While lagging behind Europe, where consumer acceptance and knowledge of probiotics have been strong for many years, North Americans have begun to warm to their presence in dairy products, and the market has tripled to more than $300 million since 2001, according to Euromonitor figures.

The Virginia-based Probiotics Council seeks to capitalise on this interest, and will work to develop standards for the many probiotic strains, further research and seek regulatory approval as well as educational campaigns.

"Our increased participation in the field of probiotic foods will bolster the cultured dairy industry's current role as the originator and leader of the probiotic-food movement," said NYA president Leslie Sarasin. "We will seek any opportunity to bring in outside experts and leaders from the industry as a whole," said spokesperson Jorge Martinez.

Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations at New York-based yoghurt manufacturer, Dannon, told Functional Ingredients North American consumers have become very interested in the idea of 'yoghurt plus,' and were willing to pay the premiums associated with probiotic spoonable yoghurts and yoghurt drinks.
Dannon, a subsidiary of French food giant, Danone, has been a probiotic leader in North America. Three of Dannon's seven product ranges are fortified with probiotics: Activia spoonable yoghurt, DanActiv one-shot drinkable yoghurt (named Actimel in the rest of world, with estimated global sales approaching $2 billion), and Danimals spoonable yoghurt for children. Activia and DanActiv sell at a 20 per cent premium over their regular counterparts, while Danimals carries no tariff. All had registered strong growth in the past year, with Activia quickly becoming a $100 million-plus brand since its early-2006 launch. Other brands such as General Mills (Yoplait), Nestlé, and Stonyfield Farm have all reported buoyant sales in probiotic offerings.

"There is still a long way to go before North America catches up with Europe in terms of consumer acceptance, but we are well on the way and the Probiotics Council will be vital in furthering this process as it will put out positive messages that come from the industry as a whole," Neuwirth said.

An international group, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), with a similar mandate was formed by the omega-3s industry in 2006 and currently has 43 members, including most of the major suppliers and some manufacturers. It has done much to consolidate the science surrounding omega-3s, launch education campaigns, establish monographs, scrutinise the supply chain and act as a unified voice on regulatory matters. The group was responsible for a submission of nine health claims to the European Commission that are being considered by the European Food Safety Authority.

The NYA also co-ordinates a Live and Active Culture Seal Program that makes a logo available to yoghurt products that have been independently tested to include a specified number of probiotic and other live cultures.

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