BioGaia targets Middle East in probiotic expansion
agreement with Swiss biopharma group Ferring Pharmaceuticals that
will see its probiotic drops and tablets distributed in a number of
predominantly Middle Eastern countries as it continues its putsch
beyond its traditional European and North American markets.
The deal gives Ferring exclusive rights to market Sweden-based GioGaia's probiotic drops (for infants) in Israel, Australia and New Zealand and its tablets (children and adults) in Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt as well as Brazil, Greece, Canada and Mexico. It is the first time Ferring has distributed BioGaia's tablets. Global ambitions "The agreement means BioGaia´s brand will be found in a large number of new markets and this is a stepping stone in our efforts to create a global brand for probiotic dietary supplements," said BioGaia president, Peter Rothschild. He told NutraIngredients.com Ferring performed well under the original agreement because it is a medium-sized company nimble enough to employ a market-by-market approach and adapt to local customs and practices - particularly important in a region like the Middle East where cultural sensitivity is a bottom-line business imperative. "Ferring is a medium-sized company that has great local connections and a strong presence in the Middle East and that is why we chose them," he said. "We didn't want to go with a global player that does not have the ability to fully integrate with local markets. It's a good model for us." Ferring chief operating officer Michel Pettigrew welcomed the expanded collaboration. "BioGaia's probiotic drops have been very well-received by the medical profession and the patients," he said. "We are delighted to be able to make it available to more patients globally and to add a new administration form (tablets), which some patients will find more convenient." BioGaia expects to have its products in 50 countries by year's end. Messaging methods The use of probiotics has gained increased validity, particularly in infant nutrition, as clinical studies have mounted and doctors and other health professionals have begun recommending their use to boost immunity to disease, promote gut health and combat problems such as colic (excessive baby screaming). Such medical profession support is vital, as health claims are prohibited in most jurisdictions despite numerous in vivo and in vitro studies that back a host of probiotic strains including BioGai's proprietary reuteri version. For this reason BioGaia instructs its license partners to employ soft product messaging, if any at all, a policy it also pursues on its own-branded products. It is only in select markets that products will even be promoted with an 'immunity' or 'gut health' sell. "Our labels are pretty neutral," Rothchild asserted. "It's more important we show the doctors and health professionals the clinical trials we have done. A lot of the messaging is left to the health professionals rather than putting it on the product itself." The soft sell is employed in Europe due to claims restrictions although BioGaia has been proactive on this front, submitting about 10 claim dossiers under the Nutrition and Health Claims Directive in areas including immunity, gut health, absenteeism, diarrhea and colic. Probiotics push for the mainstream Rothschild said the rise of probiotic foods in Europe and North America had not damaged supplements sales, in fact the opposite, as the marketing efforts of companies like Danone and Yakult had boosted awareness of probiotics and their potential health benefits across all categories. "Danone has done a great job of marketing its products and making the public aware of probiotics. We have benefited from that. I don't think Danone is going to have a problem defending themselves against the class action that has been mounted against their marketing in the US. Their science and claims seem well within the law." He said a Dutch trial that linked probiotics consumption with a series of deaths had been panned by most in the scientific community and would not cause any long-term damage to the industry. "They were using untested probiotic strains and very sick people with no valid control group. It is a complete media beat-up and the trial does not stand up to scrutiny. It just highlights how more care needs to be exercised in the construction of trials. But we have contacted the FDA and they have no problem with the probiotics we and other reputable companies use."