Founded in 1995 by Dr Myung Jun Chung, Cell Biotech made its first forays into Europe in 2001, but due to the physical and cultural distance from its Korean base, until now distribution has been "somewhat scattered", Jesper Gantzel, EVP for Cell Biotech Europe told NutraIngredients.com.
Now the aim is to shore up distribution with European sales and marketing conducted out of Denmark, with future plans to establish a European production platform in around three years time to reduce lead time and increase competitiveness.
Gantzel said that there are considerable differences between the Asian and European markets. Probiotics have been around in Asia for longer, and as a result consumer awareness is greater.
But awareness is increasing rapidly in Europe, and Gantzel called it "a fast-moving and developing market". Cell Biotech has seen market growth of between 15 and 17 per cent a year across the continent as a whole, but while probiotic dairy products have been available in Scandinavia for some time, in some countries the concept is still virtually unheard of.
The European venture is headed up by president and CEO Soren Thomsen. Thomsen and Gantzel have already 16 distributors, and are aiming to have 22 countries covered by Christmas. Both formerly worked for Broste Group, which has distributed Cell Biotech's probiotics since 2002 and continues to do so.
Call Biotech has a store of around 14 strains that it uses on a regular basis, and it will develop premixed containing three or four - or sometimes as many as nine - depending on the customer's target (for instance constipation, diarrhoea, immune health).
Cell Biotech's technology involves coating the probiotic cultures to increase stability in processing and formulations and to improve survivability through inhospitable gastic juices and bile salts, until they reach the gut.
The first layer of coating is soy peptides, and the resulting ingredient, known as ProLac, is said to be more stable during ingestion and have a longer shelf life than non-coated lactic acid bacteria.
The second phase, yielding the DuoLac product, uses cellulose and gum that protects against oxygen, acid, moisture and high temperatures.
Gantzel said that the company sees great opportunities for its probiotics in emerging new product categories such as breakfast cereals and smoothies. It is not alone in seeking to propel the market out of the established dairy category: at HIE in Frankfurt this month Danisco, Lallemand and DSM Food Specialities all aired new functional food products based on their technology.
But the newcomer believes its has a competitive edge - partly because its focus is purely on probiotics, whereas others split their attention between cultures for other uses and functional foods ingredients.
Moreover, other probiotic companies have cited high temperatures required for processing as a barrier to some food uses - an issue Cell Biotech has made inroads towards addressing.
A study has been published using Cell Biotech's products for infant health, and a Swedish trial for irritable bowel syndrome is presently in the planning stages.
Gantzel said that the company is investing in Europe-based studies, since research conducted on Asian populations is not regarded as so relevant.
Denmark is emerging as a hot spot in probiotic technology - Cell Biotech Europe's operations are based within 25km of Chr Hansen's and Danisco's.