Dairy probiotic dominance not threatened by diversification

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Yoghurt, Milk, Dairy product

The probiotic dairy market is not yet under threat from developments of the use of similar strains in vegetable and soy-based functional products, though the industry is bracing for challenges ahead in educating consumers on their use.

Both Yakult and Dannon, Danone’s US-based branch, suggest that the dairy industry’s lead in probiotic formulation was not likely to be usurped in coming years by the wider use of bacteria in wider-food production various food.

Some manufacturers believe that consumers will still need to be informed of any potential health benefits to maintain future interest though.

In considering the challenges for future probiotic use, Danon spokesperson Michael Neuwirth told DairyReporter.com that market development of probiotic fortification was a relatively untapped and maturing area, making it impossible to speculate on future prospects.

Neuwirth was confident nonetheless that, in the current economic uncertainty, the use of a probiotic products in dairy formulations, such as its own or Yakult’s products, would not lose market share to other similarly fortified goods. He stressed though that making sure consumers were informed over potential nutrition benefits would be the key challenge for the industry.

“By definition, a probiotic must be proven to have a benefit that is specific to a strain,”​ stated Neuwirth. “So one of the challenges the industry may face is the generic use of the term 'probiotics', which could lead to consumer confusion about what products are clinically proven and their strain specific benefit.”

Rival formulations

Hideyuki Shibata, senior science manager for the US-arm of manufacturer Yakult, said various manufacturers are already looking to incorporate probiotics into products like vegetable juices and soy milk.

Despite the potential competition to the company’s own products, Yakult said it was confident that the dairy industry would remain the key driver for efficient incorporation of probiotics.

“[The] Dairy format is the easiest and most cost-effective way for incorporating probiotics into a food products,”​ stated Shibata.

Professor Jeya Henry of Oxford Brookes University concurred then with manufacturers, backing their position that dairy products' reputation as a key deliverer of probiotics was not likely to be overtaken as yet by a diversified probiotic market.

Henry, who heads the university’s Functional Food Centre, claimed that dairy products had a long association with using probiotic strains through the consumption around the world of certain traditional fermented milk products.

“When you look at probiotics, there is vast consumption of the strain in dairy products,”​ he stated.

Henry added that further developments in terms of the type of products that can be fortified with probiotic strains were unlikely to significantly hit the dairy industry’s dominance of the market.

He claims then that the possible emergence of soy-based products and other alternatives to probiotic-containing dairy was most likely to challenge individual suppliers like Yakult and Dannon though by opening up the market to wider competition.

Development challenge

Product diversity and taste benefits, along with finding substrates that can maintain probiotics, were the two key areas picked by Henry as influencing development of dairy and non-dairy fortifications.

“One question that needs to be asked is, can we use specific bacteria in a substrate and can it be kept alive and functional at the same time?”​ he asked.

Henry suggested that beyond ensuring the products functionality, the industry was also likely to have to diversify beyond more traditional yoghurts to offer a growing number of more ‘unconventional’ probiotic goods to better meet wider taste requirements.

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