Consumer interest in probiotics is growing, according to the Denmark-based probiotic supplier CHR Hansen. Mirjana Curic-Bawden, the company's principal scientist for food cultures and enzymes, told FoodNavigator-USA, "We have had a lot of interest in the last couple years, especially in products for babies and children, and parents are willing to pay a premium."
However, there is some confusion about which foods and beverages contain the live microorganisms, and therefore whether or not they have key benefits such as supporting a healthy digestive or immune system, she said.
While many consumers realize probiotics are live microorganisms, they may not understand that not all fermented foods, including kombucha, kimchi or yogurts featuring "live and active cultures" contain probiotics, FoodNavigator-USA reported.
The use of probiotics and prebiotics is expected to significantly grow in the coming years due to their reputation for relieving digestive issues, boosting the immune system and contributing to the maintenance of balanced gut microbiota, or "good" bacteria. BCC Research projects the probiotics market will grow to $50 billion globally by 2020 from $32 billion in 2014.
Consumer awareness of probiotics has increased dramatically during the past decade — thanks in part to huge advertising campaigns from Danone’s Activia and other yogurt brands. Although yogurt still leads the probiotics market, other products with the microorganisms, including juices, confectionery items, baked goods, and even wine and beer, are gaining popularity.
According to Healthline.com, numerous other products are being touted as good sources of probiotics, including kefir, which is a fermented drink made from milk; sauerkraut and kimchi, both made from fermented cabbage; soy products such as miso, tempeh and soy sauce; kombucha, which is fermented green or black tea; sourdough bread; and pickles.
Food manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the demand for probiotics as an ingredient. The microorganisms are making appearances in commonly consumed food and beverages, including packaged foods like butter substitutes, granola, cold brew coffee and pressed water. Kellogg, which has historically promoted its Special K brand to help with weight loss, recently announced Special K Nourish, an offshoot of the popular line that incorporates probiotics. Other food companies have used M&A strategies to get into the probiotics space, such as PepsiCo, which purchased KeVita.
According to Packaged Facts, millennials are more interested in probiotic foods and beverages than Gen X and baby boomers. A 2017 National Consumer Survey conducted by the market research firm found about 25% of U.S. adults seek out foods and beverages with high amounts of probiotics or prebiotics. CHR Hansen's Curic-Bawden noted millennial moms are fond of certain probiotic strains found in yogurt such as Stonyfield's YoBaby because research shows they enhance both immunity and intestinal health.
Consumer confusion about probiotics occurs because of the difficulty in trying to figure out which foods contain them and will bring the best results. Adding to the problem is the fact that some probiotic items don't contain the microorganisms listed on the label, or they might be present but in a different concentration, according to a recent article in Euronews.
“The reason that there is a disconnect between the [Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN] definition and what is on the shelves of the supermarket is that the the names of organisms listed on consumers’ products are not actually real organism names. They are names that companies think will sell better. It’s very difficult to know exactly what you are getting,” Patricia L. Hibberd, chair and professor in the Department of Global Health at Boston University, told the publication.
To help educate confused shoppers about which products contain probiotics and in what amounts, manufacturers could advertise details of this inclusion more clearly on their labels and consider adding some accessible educational materials about the health benefits. Making health claims on food and beverage labels can be risky, so it's important for companies to stay within regulatory bounds.