Forward to Winter 2009 Issue

Even though the probiotic concept has been described about a century ago (Elie Metchnikoff, 1907), it is only in the past decade that probiotics have gained real momentum. Indeed, the probiotic market has known a tremendous growth during the past few years, and is still in its infancy in most territories. While the market is more developed in countries with a long history of fermented food and dairy products (Europe, Japan…), it is an emerging market with great potentials in North and South America, China, India…

One of the main driving forces behind this recent development is the growing interest for probiotics from the scientific community. Both their health benefits and mechanisms of action have gained strong scientific backup. A quick search on Pub Med shows that probiotics have generated up to 800 scientific publications between 2000 and 2007, a figure rising constantly. In 2000, probiotics have became the first health ingredient in numbers of scientific publications. As we start to gather intelligence about the diversity of the microflora functions and interactions in the body and the possible modes of actions of probiotics, new potential applications are emerging constantly. If probiotics first and most important applications remain in the digestive health and well-being area (restoration and maintain of the microbiota balance, prevention of diarrheas or bloating, transit regulation, lactose intolerance…), other trends including immunity, either to stimulate the body’s defences or prevent allergies, inflammatory diseases etc. have emerged in the past five years. Recently, the link between the microbiota and obesity have set new directions for probiotics applications. Another emerging area already recognised by animal health experts, is stress management, with growing evidences about the interactions of the microbiota with the brain-gut axis.

Another factor for the recent development of the market is certainly the increased consumer awareness for the “friendly bacteria”. More than a century after Pasteur and Metchnikoff, we finally stop being scared by bacteria and start to comprehend that rather than fighting them at all price, we should be better off living with them and “utilizing” them. This recent trend is linked to the important marketing and educational efforts of some of the big players in the probiotic sector.
Finally, if market trends for natural, healthy life-style and diet explain the growing success of probiotics, changes in healthcare strategies could also play a part. As governments and insurance-based healthcare providers are striving to reduce the expenditure on health budgets and costs associated with it, turning towards a preventive vs. curative approach makes sense  and could be further promoted.

Market research studies predict that the probiotic food supplements market should experience sustained growth over the next 5 years. In light of the mentioned development andactual market trends, we can identify the key market drivers for the near future.

As consumers’ education and awareness advances, we believe that the market will follow the science and further differentiate. As the market reaches maturity, health-conscious consumers will move from the general idea of “good bacteria” and digestive balance to the concept that all probiotics are different and able to exert specific health benefits. As we already see it with vitamins and minerals food supplements for example, consumers will understand that no product can do it all. The demand will increase for targeted products for specific applications. Research on health benefits and technological development will allow the offering of new products targeting specific health issues but also population segments, with innovative and adapted formulation and galenic forms (children, seniors, active people, women…). Further down the road, nutrigenomics and the combination of a patient genetic make-up and microbiota profile could eventually lead to even higher specialization

Solid pre-clinical and clinical documentation of the finished formula are also essential. Probiotic providers will concentrate on both the efficacy of their product and their technological development, to guarantee quality and viability of the products. This is in line with recent call from the International Probiotic Association (IPA) to design a quality seal for probiotics. The association has defined a set of quality criteria including safety, clear identification of the probiotic strain, as well as viability and stability issues. Finally, further education efforts are necessary to continue develop the market.

In conclusion, the probiotic food supplement market still has good times ahead. Its future development shall be driven by the dynamic of probiotics research regarding the substantiation of health claims, consumer education, new areas of application, and product innovations within existing applications.

Isabelle Champié
Human Nutrition Brand Managerat
Institut Rosell-Lallemand