But European Union nutrition and health claims regulations are presenting challenges for the probiotics industry that must be negotiated if it is to continue to hold a share of about 10 per cent of the global functional foods market.
Alcimed estimated the market to be worth about €10bn in 2008.
"It is expected that probiotics continue the conquest of other families of products, including snacks or chocolate,” said Alcimed food consultant, Fabienne Cottret. “New technologies could even allow encapsulated probiotics into heat-treated products.”
But first there is the small matter of Europe’s changing food regulations.
“New regulations have recently shaken up the market,” Alcimed said in reference to the 2007 European Union nutrition and health claims regulation that is attempting to establish a central list of approved claims across the 27-member state bloc by the end of January, 2010.
The controversial regulation has about 4000 claim submissions to process and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued opinions on about 60 so far, including the rejection of a handful of probiotic dossiers that failed to demonstrate causality for gut, immunity and other health benefits.
"The market for probiotics is at a strategic turning point,” said Alcimed analyst, Marion Meslin. “As the regulatory context hardens, manufacturers should redouble their efforts for their upcoming launches.”
The regulation would have an effect on product pricing and thus consumer spending habits as well as any shift in perception due to either negative or positive opinions.
Aside from gut health and immunity benefits probiotics are best known for, probiotics were increasingly being linked with cardiovascular and brain and nervous system benefits.
“On this side, the possibilities are multiple and future claims could involve the role of probiotics on oral health, cancers of the colon and even cardiovascular diseases,” Alcimed said. Declinations of new products, new technologies still under development and multiplication of claims should enable the market for probiotics to grow.
But Alcimed warned the resolution of nutrient profiling rules, due to come into force in 2011, brings challenges to the dairy products with probiotics that may also be high in fat and sugar.
Those rules state that only products that have an overall healthy profile can bear health claims.
With these factors taken account of, Alcimel estimates a growth rate of four per cent per annum until 2013 when the market will be worth €12bn.
Recent probiotic launches include an ice cream in the US; cheeses in Portugal and Hungary; cereals in the US; chocolate fudge cereal bars in the UK; energy drinks in Switzerland and Portugal and spreads in the UK.