Players in the €20bn European market are capitalising on an increased interest by parents, who as users themselves, and favour supplementation of probiotic chewables, drinks and infant formulas for their children.
But the absence of probiotic dairy products for kids appears to buck this trend, according to Dorte Eskesen, global marketing manager for Food Cultures & Enzymes at Chr Hansen.
“Innovation for dairy products aimed at children has been at a low and steady level in the past five years globally. It hardly exists when it comes to functional dairy products with probiotics, particularly products for children aged 5-12.
“Spending on children continues to grow per child as families grow smaller and disposable income increases per family globally,” she added.
“Where the focus has been on reducing sugar, there is a clear gap in the functional dairy food segment towards children.”
Observers point to Danone’s Actimel (containing Lactobacillus casei DN-114001 probiotic strain) and Activia (containing the strain Bifidus Acti-Regularis) brands, as products that are safe for children to consume.
Added to Yakult’s probiotic dairy product (containing the bacterium Lactobacillus casei Shirota), the case for a dairy-based food squarely aimed at a younger audience may not be justified.
But Eskesen points to the firm’s own ProKids concept that not only uses the scientifically-backed probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus, (LGG) but also taps into requirements for child-focused products, as demanded by parents.
“With our concept we speak both to the parent in creating a functional product which is fairly low in added and total sugar. However, the product is certainly also designed for the child’s palette. It is very mild and creamy. Without the latter it would not be successful.
“We continue to be conscious of how we can develop mild cultures which allows producers to cut down on fat and sugar in yogurts.”
Along with the sugar content and taste, there is the method of delivery with manufacturers increasingly preferring chews, melting powders, and powder mixes as finding favour with the fussy nature of children.
Accusations that yoghurt is not a consistent or reliable source for probiotics is not helped by research showing the low pH of the yoghurt mixture may kill beneficial bacteria.
It has also been suggested that foods with probiotics should contain from 106 to 108 cells/g (not including starter culture) and remain at this level for the duration of the product's shelf life to have a beneficial effect.
“We have taken this very much into account in this concept,” Eskesen responded
“All our internal studies as well as field trials show that even after 42 days of storage in the fridge, the product consistently contains more than 1 billion live LGG cells per serving of 100ml which is sufficient for the clinical effects.”
The dynamic state of kids
Very much like infant-formula, probiotic-infused dairy for kids must contend with a population still in the midst of maturation.
A gut microbiome at this stage of life might explain scientific evidence that neither supports nor dismisses probiotic benefits for children.
While Eskesen acknowledged this as a possibility for hesitancy in new product development but also believed this fear to be exaggerated.
“As more and more evidence is built on the importance of maintaining a healthy bacterial flora (the microbiome) we believe that marketers do not necessarily need to be very specific in their advertisement of the health claims as such.
“We believe that a strong parent-driven consumer pull for the world’s best documented probiotics is in the making and that marketers need to respond to this pull by making products such as these available.“
She added that there was plenty of good data out there already published, but as suppliers may not have been good enough at communicating this to the industry, nor to consumers.
“We are scaling up this effort and also have a clear branding strategy for LGG to push knowledge of probiotics even further.”