As consumer awareness about the link between probiotics and immunity continues to grow, more companies are developing enhanced products that specifically target children and infants.
In September, leading organic baby food maker HappyBaby launched an organic yoghurt fruit snack, Happy Melts, which are high in protein, low in sugar and gluten-free. They contain more than 2 billion live and active pre- and probiotic cultures.
Other notable probiotic kids launches of the past year include:
- Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink by Nestlé. Chocolate-flavoured, the drink targets kids aged 1 — 13 and supplies 25 vitamins and minerals, 7g of protein, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and selenium. Flavourless probiotics are delivered as kids sip from the BioGaia probiotic straws.
- Canadian company Bobo Baby's new range BoboKids Secret Agent Kids, with probiotics, sprouted and whole grains, and added antioxidants. The products are free of the top seven allergens.
- Dannon's increased size of its Danimals Strawberry Explosion Quick Grab drinks, which contain Lactobacillus, and added vitamin D and calcium. The drinks have no artificial colours, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup.
- Institut Rosell-Lallemand's new flavorless formula of its successful ProbioKid synbiotic product. First launched in China in 2003, the new formula can be administered without any food or drink.
Despite these launches, many opportunities for growth remain, says market research firm Packaged Facts. A February 2009 poll found 12 per cent of U.S. consumers had purchased food or beverages in the previous year specifically because of their probiotic (or prebiotic) content.
"Although women lead the demographic of people who are aware of the benefits of and purchase probiotic products, marketing niches remain among pregnant and breastfeeding women, who will benefit not only themselves but their children by consuming probiotic products," Packaged Facts said. "In addition, opportunities for growth in infant/children products are particularly strong in the areas of breakfast cereals; flavoured milk drinks and juices with probiotic straws; as well as jellies, chews and biscuits.
In developing countries, biscuits are a particularly ideal delivery vehicle. "They require no refrigeration, (and they) are easy to store and provide calories and nutrition, as well as the probiotic benefits. There are huge potential markets in China, India, Indonesia and Latin America for these products," the analysts said.
Some sound science has been coming out in recent years supporting the link between children's immunity and probiotic intake. As the H1N1 flu virus continues its deadly spread — and as of mid-October, no official word has been given on when the vaccine will be available widespread — this might be a particularly important year for parents to hear the probiotic message.
A 2009 study in Pediatrics found that probiotics can reduce cold and flu symptoms in children. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 326 children aged 3 - 5 received L. acidophilus alone, L. acidophilus in combination with B. lactis, or a placebo twice daily for six months. Relative to placebo, the combo probiotics reduced the incidence of fever by 73 per cent, and L. acidophilus alone reduced it by 53 per cent.
A June 2009 randomized study published in Vaccine, showed that daily supplements of L. casei rhamnosus (200 million cfu) in children under age 5 can control bacterial, viral and respiratory infections. The Taiwanese study also showed that a multi-species probiotic reduced gastrointestinal disease significantly. Long-term consumption of L. rhamnosus T cell-1 decreased the incidence of bacterial infection.
An October 2008 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that supplementation with L. rhamnosus substantially reduced the cumulative prevalence of eczema in infants. The women were randomized to receive L. rhamnosus HN001, B. animalis subsp. lactis HN019 or placebo daily from 35 weeks gestation until six months after delivery if breastfeeding.
Finally, a May 2008 placebo-controlled, double-blind study conducted in Turku, Finland, found a link between probiotics and child allergies. The study, printed in Clinical and Experimental Allergy, found that breastfeeding mothers with allergies who supplemented with probiotics had decreased infant sensitization. The results of this study suggest that "supplementation with probiotics by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, particularly atopic mothers, may help to prevent infant sensitization."
Educating Western consumers
Retailers such as Swanson Health Products promotes these studies on its web page and presently sells 12 probiotic-enhanced supplements for children.
"Part of what Swanson Health Products has been known for these past 40 years is that we try really hard to keep our customers up to date with information from all corners of the natural health industry," said Ben Hanson, Internet content specialist. "Children's health is an important topic that we cover in research updates and on our three blogs. We also have a strong following on Facebook, helping us connect with our customers in a more interactive way."
But there is still work to be done when it comes to educating consumers, says Isabelle Champi, human nutrition brand manager of the French firm Rosell-Lallemand, the makers of ProbioKid synbiotic.
"I wouldn't say there is wide knowledge of probiotics among parents yet, but it is definitively on the rise," Champi said. "Clearly, the growing number of scientific publications about probiotics' effects and the important educational efforts from big companies have lead to increased consumer awareness, as well as increased trust regarding probiotics in general."
The ProbioKid brand is sold by partners across Europe, America, South Africa and Australia, but Asia is still by far its largest market, the company said. In China, growth has averaged 20 per cent a year. The product is not yet available in the United States, although it has been sold in Canada since 2007 (by Santé Naturelle,) and in Columbia since 2006.
Want to learn more? Click here for FI's article on a new prebiotic product launch.