The National Yogurt Association is creating a probiotics council - another signal the active cultures have achieved mainstream status in North America.
The concept of friendly bacteria has taken longer to catch on in the US than in Europe, where it has long been a staple in the functional food market. However, thanks in large part to Danone's Activia yogurt campaign, probiotics are making an increasing appearance in US dairy aisles and functional products beyond. As such, yogurt manufacturers are feeling compelled to take an active role in probiotics and take part in any regulatory standards dialogue as it arises. "Our focus has been on culture dairy-based food products," NYA vice president of communications, Jorge Martinez, told NutraIngredients-USA. "But the association has seen the growth of the probiotic market and the wealth of scientific research behind it." Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that populate the gut. They help to prevent digestive problems and are said to ward off preconditions for an array of diseases. The probiotic spoonable market in the US went from $112m in 2001 to $294m in 2006, according to Euromonitor International. While the yogurt side of the probiotic market may have been the launch pad for consumer awareness of the concept, growth also appears to have trickled down to the dietary supplement industry as well. The retail market for probiotic supplements in North America grew from $152.2mn in 2002 to $293mn in 2006, according to Euromonitor. NYA's probiotic council will look to inform on industry standards and regulatory issues. The aim for its founders is for it to become the reference point for the probiotics industry in North America. "Our increased participation in the field of probiotic foods will bolster the cultured dairy industry's current role as the originator and leader of the probiotic food movement," said NYA president Leslie Sarasin. Representing manufacturers, distributors and marketers of yogurt, NYA was originally established in 1986 and is now one of the trade associations falling under the umbrella of the American Frozen Food Institute. While the specifics of the council have not been finalized, Martinez indicated it will draw primarily from industry food scientists who are members of NYA. However, the association does not want to limit dialogue to the yogurt industry. "We will seek any opportunity to bring in outside experts and leaders from the industry as a whole," said Martinez. On a global level, the International Probiotics Association (IPA), is looking to carry out a similar mandate. Founded in 2001, the Chicago-headquartered association wants to be become a network between researchers, academia and industry. IPA's long term goal is to establish a certification program and third party testing based on standardized methodology surrounding probiotics.