Trust in probiotics damaged by food industry’s unhealthy and 'aggressive' past, warns regulation expert

By Nikki Cutler contact

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages | Rimma Bondarenko
GettyImages | Rimma Bondarenko
Probiotic food and drink firms may struggle to gain consumer trust thanks to the negative image of the food industry caused by a history of 'aggressive marketing' of unhealthy products, delegates of Probiota Copenhagen heard last week.

Speaking during the panel debate entitled 'claims versus consumers', Elinor McCartney, president of Pen & Tec Consulting, questioned if probiotic food and drink companies are going to struggle to gain the trust of consumers, not only because of the health claim restrictions, but because the industry has a history of encouraging consumers to consume unhealthy products.

“The food industry has been accused of too aggressively marketing food high in sugar and fat which have caused many health issues today,"​ the regulation requirement specialist stated. 

“Perhaps the probiotics industry is being lumped in with that market and is now going to be accused of marketing these products too aggressively.”

Peter Wennstrom, health food and supplement consultant and founder of healthcare consultancy Healthy Marketing Team, agreed that this could be a major issue.

He said: “They may well be reluctant to accept that this is the answer to their health problems because its coming from the same industry they blame for creating those problems.”

Simple yet effective

McCartney argued that industry leaders need to ‘reset’ how the industry looks by concentrating on making simple health claims that they are most likely to be able to prove.

She added firms should be careful not to make outlandish health claims which will lead to confusion and distrust.

“I’ve heard scientists talking about the effect of probiotics on metabolic syndrome​."

She pointed out that metabolic syndrome is a culmination of health issues including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes - health issues caused by a whole range of lifestyle choices.

She added: “In my humble opinion, probiotics are not going to cure metabolic syndrome! It's claims like this that cause mistrust.”

EFSA newbies

Providing a more hopeful outlook, McCartney pointed out that many food and drink companies are still getting used to EFSA policies so they are going to be feeling quite shocked by the restrictions but she said the regulator is more open to innovation and communication than ever before. 

“The food industry has come late to EFSA and the industry has not been used to being so regulated and I think they are going through adaptation and so they are a bit shocked at the moment.

“EFSA has previously been adverse to engaging with stakeholders but that has changed over the last two years.

“So the great news today is EFSA is listening so there is opportunity to communicate and work with them.”

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