“In excess of 250 million doses of probiotic supplements are being taken annually and that is just from the top brands, so the total figure is probably much higher,” Niklas Bjärum, vice president of marketing and sales at Probi, told NutraIngredients.
“It is a substantial market already, but given the size of the population and the growth in disposable incomes, it could be much bigger.”
Probi is hoping to tap into this potential through its agreement with USV Limited. In Q4 2012, the Indian pharmaceutical firm will launch capsules based on Probi’s Lactobacillus plantarum299v strain under the Vibact IBS brand. Vibact IBS will specifically target IBS symptoms like bloating, flatulence and pain, which are common in the Indian population.
“Gastrointestinal issues are very high on the list of health concerns for Indian people, due to the way food is handled and the high quantities of hot spices consumed,” said Bjärum. “This, combined with a long history of using fermentation as a way to preserve food without refrigeration, means Indian consumers have a fair understanding of the concept of probiotic bacteria."
Past and futre deals
It is not Probi’s first foray into the Indian market - the firm already supplies Lp299v capsules to Aristo Pharmaceuticals and Ranbaxy through its partnership with Institut Rosell - and is unlikely to be its last.
“We still have additional product concepts we haven’t yet commercialised in India. We’ve got a strong immune proposition - Probi Defendum - available as Friscus juices or a dietary supplement tablet. Probi Defendum uses two strains to boost the immune system and help against common colds,” said Bjärum.
All the products supplied so far by Probi to the Indian market are sold through pharmacies as prescription drugs, but Bjärum believes there are opportunities to build a functional foods segment based on probiotics, pointing out that India was the first test market for Danone and Yakult’s joint venture approach.
EU claims push
“Probiotic foods is a limited market at present due to difficulties with cold chain distribution, but it’s a market with a lot of potential,” he said.
The underdeveloped nature of the Indian market isn’t the only thing that makes it attractive. With EFSA’s refusal to approve any probiotic health claims dossiers, no doubt probiotic suppliers will increasingly be looking beyond the EU to countries like India, for new business.
“We’re not specifically looking beyond the EU. We have so much to do in all parts of the world – the opportunities are bigger than our resources. However, the health claims situation is one factor that influences our business development strategy,” said Bjärum.