The market for probiotics

The European market size for probiotics (led by France, Spain, Italy, and Germany) exceeded USD 630 million in 2017. [1]

The traditional probiotic market is dominated by foods such as fermented milk drinks, probiotic yoghurts, and probiotic yoghurt drinks, with major players such as Yakult, Danone, PepsiCo, Morinaga and Nestlé. [2] In the UK, a 2019 survey by Mintel showed that Activia by Danone is the third leading brand and the overall retail value of spoon-able yoghurts is £138M. [3]

Challenges facing food producers in the probiotic market include:

  • The regulatory environment. In Europe, the term ‘probiotic’ is effectively banned in all countries except for Italy and Switzerland, due to strict regulations relating to health claims on food. This is very different from the regulatory environment in the USA, where the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, passed in 1994, led to dramatic growth in the sales of products marketed as probiotics. The legislation allows probiotics to be marketed as dietary supplements without the rigorous testing required to approve prescription drugs.

  • The human gastrointestinal tract, which has evolved to kill off microorganisms in the acidic environment of the stomach. New probiotic formulations must contain enough of the organisms that can get through to the lower intestine in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

  • Consumer tastes. In many markets, fermented products became unfashionable for many decades, and tastes changed as a result. Many consumers find the products challenging from a sensory point of view and find the sour or acidic tastes unacceptable. [5]

  • The drawbacks of dairy products. Most probiotics currently available are dairy based. However, cereals might provide a new non-dairy alternative and would overcome the disadvantages associated with fermented dairy products like lactose intolerance, allergies and the impact on cholesterol levels. [4,5] The food industry has picked up on this and in 2018 in the US (which allows the marketing of products labelled as ‘probiotics’ [6]) Kellogg debuted its HI! Happy Inside cereal, which claims to deliver a 3-in-1 mix of prebiotics, probiotics and fibre, in an aim to support digestive health. [7]

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Engaging with Controversies in the Food System

EIT Food