The International Probiotics Association has placed a new executive director at the helm who is looking to bring transparency and self-regulation to the growing global market for so-called friendly bacteria.
Ioannis Misopoulos joined the non-profit trade group as executive director on May 1. Originally founded by Jarrow Formulas in 2001, IPA became fully active in 2005 and began forging a network between researchers, academia and industry.
Misopoulos spoke to NutraIngredients-USA about his aspirations for the IPA, under its overall mission of standardizing probiotics so that they are uniformly effective and its aim of educating consumers.
IPA's long term goal is to establish a certification program and third party testing based on standardized methodology surrounding probiotics.
"Somebody has to establish a quality standard out there and give unbiased information on the latest research," Misopoulos told NutraIngredients-USA.
The crux of the issue is one that has manifested itself across various categories of the functional food and nutraceutical industries: not all products labeled as probiotics behave in the same manner.
This is a concern presents a challenge to the bottom line of those manufacturers who do practice solid science, as other companies can piggy back off their research and use similar claims. It is also a concern for consumers as they may be missing out on potentially beneficial effects of one product over the defects of another.
"There are a lot of claims being made out there, and a lot of bad products," said Misopoulos.
Another long term aim of IPA is to set international regulatory guidelines for probiotics.
"We would like to find out what avenues there are for common ground in international regulatory agendas."
The group also wants to get the word out on probiotics to healthcare professionals, so they in turn can recommend such products to their patients.
"It's cheaper healthcare if there's prevention before a cure," said Misopoulos.
Probiotics are described as beneficial bacteria that populate the gut. When an imbalance occurs between probiotic and pathogenic bacteria, the result may be digestive problems such as diarrhoea, irregularity or constipation. Regular consumption of probiotics is also said to ward off numerous preconditions for an array of diseases.
While Europe has been the bastion of probiotics, the nutraceutical concept has been a lot slower to develop in the US. Some have posited this as being because the notion of 'friendly basteria' was not appetizing to consumers this side of the Atlantic.
Despite this hurdle, Datamonitor recently reported that probiotic drinks and yoghurts were leading the entire US functional foods category, valued at US$21.3bn in 2006.
According to Euromonitor data, the global probiotic spoonable market went from $1.7bn in 2001 to $4.1bn in 2006. Over the same period in the US, it went from $112m to $294m.
Danone has been a key player in getting the message out to North American consumers through its advertising campaigns. Since the US launch of its Activia probiotic yogurts in January 2006, sales have surpassed the $100m mark in retail grocery sales.
Still, there remains work to be done in this market says Misopoulos.
"One of the things that we want to do is increase awareness of probiotics in the US. Having our office in the US with help with that."
IPA plans to give exposure to the issue by getting out to events across the country - such as health walks, or by co-sponsoring events and handing out samples from member companies.
Misopoulos previously worked as international sales manager of soyfoods with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). While he says his academic studies in food science will help him in his work with IPA, he says his status as 'newbie' to the global probiotic scene is likely to help IPA maintain its purpose.
"I'm changing the direction a little bit," said Misopoulos. "It was run by industry before - now I'm coming from outside the industry, so I have an unbiased perspective."
Based in Chicago, IPA has a staff of three members, including Misopoulos. However, its board of directors consists of 18 international members, coming from both industry and academia. The members meet every six months to a year and communicate daily.
The other founding members of IPA are players with a significant stake in the probiotic industry: DSM, Danisco, CHR Hansen, Institut-Rosell Lallemand, Fonterra, Lifeway Foods, Bio-K Plus, Harmonium International, Nature's Way and Nestle Purina.
Misopoulos says IPA's industry membership, which also funds the majority of its budget, is growing and he is trying to establish strong communication with other groups.
"That's something I'm working on very hard."