Probiotics or prebiotics? potential in the Australian market

Related tags Probiotic yoghurt New zealand Probiotic

Inadequate consumer understanding of probiotic foods poses a
critical challenge to the immense potential for growth in the
Australia and New Zealand markets, but consumer behaviour and the
ageing demographic will ensure sustained growth.

Inadequate consumer understanding of probiotic foods poses a critical challenge to the immense potential for growth in the Australia and New Zealand markets, finds a new study by market analysts Frost & Sullivan.

Probiotic products that contain live microbial cultures, prebiotic products that selectively stimulate the growth of probiotics, and synbiotic products that combine probiotics and prebiotics all exert a positive effect on digestive health and overall wellbeing.

Most mass market consumers, however, appear to lack a clear understanding of the specific nature of gastrointestinal functioning and the concept of probiotic action, reveals the study. This dearth of knowledge tends to be even more evident in the case of prebiotic and synbiotic concepts, it adds.

However, while this situation poses a critical challenge for the dairy industry in Australia and New Zealand, there are encouraging signs that growing consumer awareness about the health benefits offered by probiotic and prebiotic dairy products will boost consumption levels. Across Australia and New Zealand, there has been a general upswing in consumer interest regarding functional foods, bolstered by positive media coverage of probiotic health benefits, according to the study.

"It is expected that the increasing number of functional food products available and advertised in the market will improve consumer understanding of the concepts and the functionality involved. Probiotic and prebiotic dairy foods will enjoy better acceptance in the future through this improved understanding,"​ said Ivan Fernandez, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan​.

Demand for functional foods will also be driven by a rapidly ageing population. Probiotic and prebiotic foods will become more important since they offer the prospect of averting or, at the very least, delaying age-associated degenerative diseases.

The Frost report also claims that probiotics and prebiotics are emerging at the forefront in the search for food-based drug substitutes to combat lifestyle-related diseases. Their role in controlling high blood pressure and obesity, two key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, is well documented. They are also relevant in the battle against colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. And they are thought to boost the immune system, thereby reducing the effects of stress on health.

The interest in natural alternatives to replace conventional medicine will also affect the rise in the consumption of probiotic and prebiotic foods. "This is expected to parallel the shift by health-conscious consumers from a negative approach, i.e. removing ingredients through reduced salt, fat, and sugar, to a more positive approach, i.e. fortifying food through probiotic and prebiotic ingredients,"​said the report.

The widespread and growing popularity of yoghurt, driven partly by convenience and health considerations, will be key to market growth of probiotics and prebiotics. Yoghurt is increasingly seen as nutritious, and options such as low-fat, no-fat or 'diet', and expanding varieties and flavours and more attractive packaging have pushed consumption levels of probiotic yoghurt ever higher.

Not surprisingly, then, probiotic yoghurt constitutes the largest segment in the probiotic dairy foods market, accounting for 82 per cent of the total probiotic dairy product volumes in Australia. This dominance is forecast to continue over the medium term. Trailing behind is the fermented milks segment at 16 per cent, with ice cream, cheese and miscellaneous dairy applications comprising the remainder.

At present, several yoghurt manufacturers use probiotics in their products. However, very few are actually marketing their products to consumers from the probiotic angle. Among the yoghurt brands highlighting the probiotic component, Jalna has the largest market share followed by Paul's Vaalia. Within the fermented milk drink category, Yakult is the acknowledged leader.

Chr. Hansen is the leading probiotic culture supplier to participants in the Australia and New Zealand dairy foods market, reveals the report, with other prominent suppliers including DSM, Rhodia and Danisco.

The report notes that prebiotic ingredients are being used in dairy products principally as a fat replacement solution and as fibre, rather than for their prebiotic functionality. And while synbiotic products are available, they are not being positioned as such due to low levels of consumer awareness and understanding of synbiotics.

A key to future success will therefore lie in communicating more effectively with mainstream consumers.

Fernandez concludes: "An increasingly well-informed mass market coupled with the ageing demographic will ultimately drive the probiotic/prebiotic markets. This trend will also be fuelled by the fact that consumers are today avid pack-readers. This will increase familiarity with and improve their understanding of probiotic/prebiotic/synbiotic concepts, health benefits and strain nomenclature, thereby, boosting market penetration."

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