Probiotics have come a long way in just ten years.
The first probiotic-laced yogurt was introduced to the U.S. in 2005, and at the time, the good-for-you bacteria couldn't be added to anything else and survive.
Nowadays, probiotics have been engineered to withstand the heat required for preparation — like boiling, microwaving or baking — and are found in products as diverse as hot tea, breakfast burritos and gluten-free brownies. This is a huge advance in stability for an ingredient normally sensitive to temperature, light, oxygen and moisture. And it is this viability under diverse processing conditions and a broader temperature range that manufacturers believe will help probiotics achieve greater market penetration.
BCC Research projects the probiotic market to grow to $50 billion globally by 2020. Analyst Aneesh Kumar told Food Dive that while yogurt still leads the market for probiotic inclusion, new products for the bacteria include fruit and vegetable juices, confectionery, baked goods, wine, beer, infant formula, dark chocolate and pet food.
To spore or not to spore
There are two types of probiotic organism: non-spore forming or spore-forming. It is the latter that initially made it possible to expand beyond the dairy case. Spore-forming organisms form a type of shell or coating that causes them to enter a dormant state resilient to heat, moisture and oxygen. This protects the organism until it enters the gastrointestinal tract, where ideal conditions exist.
Once it reaches the small intestine, the probiotic can provide health and wellness benefits. However, health and wellness benefits and tolerance parameters are strain specific. Reputable suppliers conduct clinical trials and provide evidence to back up their claims.
Michael Bush, president of Ganeden, told Food Dive that there is no one amount of probiotics that is most beneficial. Some with similar benefits might be most effective at different amounts.
“Looking at something easy to measure like an immune point,” he said, “one organism produces a certain immune modulation response at 500 million CFU (culture forming units) per day, while another might require 30 billion CFU for the same level of efficacy.”
This is where strain survival is critical, he said. Looking at yogurt and examining survival of probiotic bacteria through digestive acids, Bush said, “good bifidobacteria survive the stomach’s gastric acidity at a level of a tenth of a percent to a percent. So if you include 10 billion CFUs in the initial product, a percent or a tenth of a percent makes it into the gut.”
“First, formulators need to account for the clinical data," he said. "A strain might get good results supplying a certain health or wellness benefit at 10 billion CFU. However, then you also need to ensure the shelf life, so the consumer who buys the product realizes the promised benefits.”
Ganeden offers a spore-forming organism called GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086) that sees a 24% to 78% survival through gastric acid.
There are many manufacturers that believe BC30 can deliver benefits. According to Ganeden, this probiotic strain has been used in more than 500 consumer products across a spectrum of categories, including nut butters, frozen desserts, granola, organic juice and an avocado-based smoothie bowl.
There’s a new strain in town
A newly identified strain of probiotic that its proponents say is shelf stable could disrupt the market. Pediococcus acidilactici 5051, a plant-based, non-spore forming probiotic, is generally recognized as safe as an ingredient, is less sensitive to oxygen exposure than Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and more resistant to heat. It can survive across a broad temperature range, remaining stable and viable in temperatures ranging from -20 degrees Celsius up to 185 degrees Celsius for brief periods of time. And it offers acid stability.
A&B Ingredients is commercializing this probiotic strain. Joe O’Neill, vice president of sales and business development, told Food Dive that although spore-formers can provide good benefits, some manufacturers might prefer a non-spore forming strain.
“They (manufacturers) might be more comfortable with a probiotic that is non-spore forming because it enables them to have greater level of microbial control in their plant,” he said.
O'Neill explained that spores of any type can be difficult to eradicate. Manufacturers processing multiple products within their facility want to “be able to implement sterilization and cleaning procedures, then formulate again with a fresh batch of product and start clean. Any spore forming strain, under certain conditions, can pop up again.”
The company has tested its probiotic in products including yogurt, chocolate, coffee and soy sauce. It is investigating the probiotic's potential for nutrition bars and cereal and other areas in the food industry “that traditionally shy away from having spores in their facilities,” said O'Neill.
J.J. Lin, Ph.D., chief scientist of Imaglin Technologies, presented findings related to P. acidilactici 5051 at an ingredients conference in August. There is strong evidence this strain can help immune functions in humans and in animals, according to his presentation.
Pet food, said O’Neill, is a viable product category for probiotic inclusion. BCC Research and Ganeden also agree. Bush noted that dogs and cats have digestive systems that work much like those of humans, so a lot of probiotic data could work the same way for human and pet food.
There are already a several probiotic products on the market for pets. Wal-Mart has a premium line of dog food that incorporates GanedenB30. And another study showed P. acidilactici 5051 could relieve eczema in dogs.
Is the growing demand for probiotics in the American diet a need or a fad?
Part of it, Bush said, is consumer awareness of the importance of the microbiome and a healthy gut.
That aside, he said previous generations, didn’t “hand you antibiotics every time you sneezed.” Meat products, he said, were not "laced with antibiotics." Bush feels overexposure to antibiotics is “screwing up the gut. Probiotics are more necessary in today’s society.”
Another part of the growth in the probiotics market can be attributed to consumers’ more proactive approach to immune health, Megan DeStefano, probiotics global marketing leader, DuPont Nutrition & Health, said in a written statement.
“Thinking has evolved from ‘I have a cold and need something to help me with my symptoms,’ to ‘help me stay healthy, so I don’t catch a cold,’” she wrote.
This approach to boosting the immune system can help reduce antibiotic use, as DuPont discovered in a clinical trial. DuPont offers a range of non-spore forming strains based on Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that target various health and immune concerns of people from infants through adults. For one blend, clinical findings demonstrated an 80% reduction in antibiotic use when tested on children suffering from cold and influenza-like symptoms. It also supported respiratory health, showed a decrease in incidences of respiratory symptoms and reduced the number of sick days.
Jumping onto the protein bandwagon, certain probiotic ingredients suppliers offer studies that show strain-specific probiotic effectiveness in supporting the body’s protein utilization. GanedenBC30 supports the body’s utilization of protein and also enhances vitamin and mineral absorption. This protein utilization opens up new possibilities in the sports nutrition category.
Another new category of interest for probiotics could be weight loss products. The probiotics themselves will not cause the pounds to drop off, but rather support the immune system, which is under the stress during dieting. Probiotics could also help relieve gastrointestinal issues that can crop up.
And as the pet food market continues to grow, probiotics will likely be used more to in pet foods and treats to help man's best friend improve digestion and other health functions.