Probiotics are the superstars of nutritional product launches in the 21st century. For most of history, probiotics labored away in obscurity, enriching products like yogurt and kefir—staple foods in many cultures. With the rise of interest in health spurred on by the zeitgeist of the 1960s, yogurt’s appeal in particular as a healthy food was firmly established.
Fast-forward to the early 21st century, when, in 2006, yogurt giant Danone launched a highly successful new product called Activia, with a bonus ingredient: probiotics aimed at improving digestive health.
The global probiotics market is projected to grow to $69 billion at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 7.0 percent through 2023.1 While probiotics continue as a top trend, misconceptions and confusion around the category and the benefits of these bacteria linger. And with the rise of even more products incorporating probiotics, it’s more important than ever for consumers to understand their benefits.
Probiotics are important for everyday well-being. Fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin D are stored in the fat cells and are not urinated out daily, meaning you can skip a day or two, and the nutrients will still be working their way through the body. With probiotics, the bacteria need to be continually replenished throughout the gastrointestinal tract, because only some of them adhere to the intestinal wall’s epithelial lining, where they confer their benefits.
Tip: Probiotics are more beneficial if consumed daily.
Probiotic bacteria can also help the body digest food and absorb nutrients. The opportunity for product developers lies in integrating stable, efficacious probiotic strains into products consumers enjoy every day. With the multitude of probiotic strains available, manufacturers should choose science-backed ingredients that are well-positioned and can be efficiently formulated.
So what separates the wheat from the chaff? It comes down to several factors:
1. Not All Probiotics Are the Same
What’s the difference? First, it’s helpful to understand the most common probiotic types. There are three genera of bacteria that comprise the majority of bacteria with recognized probiotic activity:
• Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria
Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria are common vegetative bacteria. Their cells are not particularly resistant to high heat or desiccation, and tend to be sensitive to the extremes of acid and alkaline conditions, as found in the stomach and small bowel. Studies have shown that most are quickly killed off in the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach and upper digestive tract. Because these bacteria are fragile, they require refrigeration to remain viable.
Strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are supplied in their living, vegetative states. That is, they are living organisms that require very specific environments to remain viable. Often found in fermented dairy products, like yogurt, these typically cannot be used in products that are shelf-stable, frozen, heated or subjected to extreme manufacturing processes.
Bacillus are hardy, spore-forming bacteria that act as vegetative bacteria when conditions are optimal for their growth but can also form dormant spores when conditions are detrimental to their viability. Think of this spore like a plant seed—it is dormant and won’t grow until there is the right temperature, moisture and food source.
Research on specific bacillus strains has shown they can withstand both heat and acidic conditions, and these spores are much more resistant to the extremes of pH, heat, cold and pressure than vegetative cells. This makes them a much better fit for fortification in everyday foods and beverages, including products that may be hot, cold or frozen, shelf-stable or subject to extreme manufacturing processes.
Spore-forming probiotics, particularly Bacillus coagulans, can survive in most applications without the need for refrigeration by staying dormant until they reach the digestive tract. Tip: Understanding the difference between probiotic types is the first step in identifying a probiotic that can fit a product’s formulation and provide health benefits. Product manufacturers looking to formulate a shelf-stable, heat-resistant product should choose spore-forming probiotics.
2. Strain Matters
Scientists have found supplementation with different probiotic strains to be linked to different types of benefits, such as digestive and immune health. But you can’t take the positive findings of one study that looks at a particular strain and its impact on health and use it to substantiate the health benefits of another strain. Probiotic strains each possess their own distinct characteristics. These properties may influence safety, efficacy, benefits and the strain’s suitability for certain applications.
Tip: It’s vital for food manufacturers to understand that when selecting or recommending a probiotic, research must support that strain specifically.
3. Probiotics Can Be a Formulation Challenge—and an Opportunity
When considering products with the health benefits of probiotics, finding a strain that not only provides clinically supported efficacy but is easy to formulate can be difficult. Often, developers have to deal with the technical challenges that are inherent to the more common probiotic strains (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium), like stability, the effects of secondary fermentation, and the need to make endless adjustments to product pH. Add to this the challenge of ensuring a sufficient amount of beneficial bacteria (measured in colony-forming units, or CFUs) remains in the product after manufacturing and shipping, without requiring 300 or 400 percent overages to compensate.
Tip: Manufacturers that want to promote the benefits of probiotics in their foods or beverages must fortify those products with high-quality, survivable, science-backed probiotic strains. It is important to work with ingredient suppliers that provide well-researched strains, R&D support, and that perform product testing to help ensure that consumers are getting the probiotic benefits they expect.
So What Do Consumers Really Want?
Research shows a clear consumer preference for food and drink as a vehicle for digestive health benefits. When asked “What would be your preferred consumption format of health-enhancing ingredients?,” 85 percent named food and 57 percent named drink.2
A recent consumer survey fielded by Kerry in 14 markets asked health-conscious consumers about their awareness and usage of healthy lifestyle ingredients, including probiotics. In the U.S., 62 percent of consumers are aware of them, while 33 percent have used them in the last six months. Levels of awareness are even higher in China, where 67 percent of consumers are aware of probiotics and 49 percent have used them in the last six months.3
The proprietary consumer research asked consumers if they would be interested in purchasing products in particular categories if they contained ingredients that promoted digestive health. Globally, the top categories included:
It is unsurprising that consumers are most interested in digestive benefits in refrigerated dairy products, as this is the category where, traditionally, they have been most likely found. However, this has changed due to developments such as the emergence of spore-forming probiotics. Because hardy strains can survive almost any manufacturing process, probiotics can be incorporated into almost any food and beverage category. The range now goes far beyond the refrigerated aisle and includes everyday items from teas and coffees to peanut butter.
How does GanedenBC30 Help Manufacturers Meet Demand?
In a competitive digestive health space in which consumers are often skeptical about the claims made for functional products,4 the only sustainable strategy is to use high-quality ingredients supported by scientific substantiation.
If you can answer yes to these questions, you’ll be a savvier formulator:
• Are you ready to capitalize on the probiotic revolution?
• Will consumers pay more for a probiotic version of your product?
• Is your probiotic labeled with a specific strain and not just a general genus and species?
• Does your probiotic have published, peer-reviewed studies demonstrating safety and efficacy?
• Do you know if your probiotic CFU count has been found to be safe and effective in published studies?
• Has a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) letter of no objection from the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) been issued for the particular strain?
• Can your probiotic withstand food and/or beverage processing conditions?
• Has the probiotic strain been well-established in retail stores?
The leading spore-forming probiotic is GanedenBC30 (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086). GanedenBC30 is a patented and well-established probiotic that is already found in more than 1,000 foods, beverages and companion animal products worldwide.
GanedenBC30 is ideal for applications such as:
• Juices and smoothies, because it can survive most manufacturing processes
• Teas and coffees, because it can survive high-temperature variants such as the high heat of boiling water
• Dry powdered beverages and even shelf-stable liquid beverages where it is delivered through technologies such as push caps and straws
• Snacks, bars and baked goods, because of its ability to survive most processing conditions
• Ice creams and freezer pops, because of its long shelf life and inherent stability
• Sports nutrition products, because of its ability to enhance protein absorption.
Backed by Research
Benefit claims like supports digestive health, immune health and protein utilization can only be supported by studies on that individual strain. Additionally, it can’t be assumed that study results on individual strains can be seen when that same strain is included in a multi-strain formulation, especially if the strains are not used at the same level as in the published clinical studies.
GanedenBC30 is supported by more than 25 published papers demonstrating its benefits. In addition to digestive health, this substantial body of research shows that GanedenBC30 supports immune health and enhances the body’s ability to utilize protein.
Tip: Versatile, scientifically proven and appealing to consumers, GanedenBC30 is ideal for the rapidly changing digestive health markets. NIE
1 MarketsandMarkets, Global Probiotic Market Forecast to 2023, Dec 2018.
2 GlobalData – Ingredient Insights: Digestive Health, August 2018.
3 Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019.
4 Mintel Nutrition & Performance Drinks, US, March 2018.
Donald Cox, PhD leads Kerry’s technical efforts for the ProActive Health business, focusing on the Wellmune immune health and GanedenBC30 probiotic ingredients. Areas of responsibility include clinical research, product development and technical services. Cox has significant experience with the commercialization of natural products in the industry, working exclusively in this industry during his career. He has held positions with Kerry, Biothera, DKSH North America, Cargill and Diamond V. Cox holds a PhD, fermentation microbiology, Cornell University; an MBA, University of Iowa, School of Business Management; and a BS, majors in chemistry and biology, Framingham State College.