Hansen targets probiotic cheese market

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cheese

Chr Hansen is refining its probiotic offerings with the intention of making cheese ‘the new yoghurt’ as a user-friendly, efficiacious probiotic medium.

The Danish supplier’s strains have been incorporated into “a couple”​ of North American and European cheese products since 2006, but now the company is focusing on particular cheese types with specific probiotic strains, according to its marketing manager of cheese cultures, Nanna Borne.

Three of Hansen’s clinically-backed strains – BB12, LA5 and L.Casei 431 – are being highlighted as potential fortifiers of three kinds of cheese – cottage, Continental and cheddar.

Big cheese

She said these cheese types, which respectively account for 5, 25 and 20 per cent of the world’s 14.5m ton yearly cheese output, were best suited to probiotic fortification.

“Probiotics are live cultures and cannot withstand cooking and are not suited to ripened cheeses,”​ she said. “But these types of cheeses tend to be eaten in a cold format such as in sandwiches and so are suited to probiotics.”

Hansen said cheeses that are unsuited to probiotic fortification include those that are typically cooked, such as those used with pizza, as well as long-cured cheeses like stilton, and high-fat cheeses that do not have a healthy profile.

Yet Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) revealed a probiotic-fortified Roquefort cheese called Lazur Syr (Gold Cheese) had been launched in Russia in May.

Clinical data suggests a daily 30g serving of probiotic-fortified cheese will deliver gut health benefits for most consumers, although no such health claims can yet be made.

Such dosage would cost a cheese manufacturer “a few centimes”​ per serving, Borne noted.

Hansen has submitted a series of gut health-related claims to the European Union’s nutrition and health claims regulation that is due for resolution in about 18 months.

With this in mind, it encouraged co-branding with its existing and potential cheese clients.

“We have submitted a number of gut health claims to the European Commission and this will help our clients to market their products if they are approved, which we expect they will be,”​ Borne said.

Products had achieved niche-level sales since April 2006 when an Austrian cheese from dairy group, Nom, debuted containing Hansen’s BB12 and LA5 strains. On launch, the co-branded product retailed at a premium price of €1.70 and remains on-market.

Other products include a plain cheese in Italy from Ciambello Cheese and a product called ‘Sa Lett Gulost’ (So Light Yellow Cheese) in Norway from the dairy, Synnove Finden.

Probiotic cheese drive

Despite blue sky predictions made for the international probiotics sector by some pundits, the statistics are a little more sombre, especially in Europe, a fact Borne attributes to a lack of targeted and ongoing marketing.

Mintel’s GNPD reveals European launches dropped from 27 in 2006 to 11 in 2007 with just three new products in 2008.

“It takes a lot of marketing to drive the probiotic cheese to the consumers as you have to convince them to eat it daily,” ​Borne said.

She said launches from major brands had a better chance of succeeding because they had the funds to invest in such marketing campaigns.

Only a few of the brands launched in 2006 had survived, she noted.

Despite this, the company had prioritised the sector in response to what Borne called “increasing international demand”.

Mintel statistics in other regions back this up with North America jumping from one launch in 2006 to 15 in 2007 and eight so far this year.

The Asia-Pacific’s first probiotic cheeses were launched this year – a total of five.

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