Leading probiotic group Yakult has pursued an original marketing strategy in an effort to establish its brand in the US by striking an agreement with the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
The agreement, which kicked off in late October, sees the Yakult probiotic dairy beverage being sold at commissaries in southwest US.
According to Yakult USA, subsidiary of the Japan-based Yakult Honsha, the first few weeks of sales have yielded an “impressive performance” for its product.
Greg Spivey, director of Military Division for Tony's Fine Foods, which distributes Yakult to DeCA, said: “We couldn't keep enough Yakult on the shelves to meet customer's demands.”
Moving into the US
The agreement with DeCA follows the launch last year of Yakult in the American market, where it is now sold in California, Nevada and Arizona.
However, although the product is still carving out its market in the US, it is considered to be one of the best established probiotic products in other regions around the world.
Indeed, the global marketing efforts of Yakult are largely responsible for the success of the probiotic category in general. The company, which is considered to be the world's original probiotic company, is today worth $2.3bn.
Its namesake beverage is currently sold in 30 countries around the world, and the firm said it sells 25 million bottles of the yogurt drink every day.
The company puts its success down to three major factors: the scientific backing for its probiotic strain, the high quantities of live bacteria found in each serving, and the affordable price of the product.
Lactobacillus casei Shirota, which is exclusive to Yakult, was cultured in 1930 by Japanese microbiologist Dr Minoru Shirota. In 1935, Dr Shirota incorporated the strain - which was at the time touted as being "stronger than most" - into a yogurt beverage: Yakult.
The company says its product contains "one of the most studied probiotic strains" which help stimulate the immune system.
A study published in 1994 (Tanaka et al.) found that ingestion of Lactobacillus casei Shirota increases beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria) and decreases harmful bacteria (enterobacteriaceae).
Another study (Koebnick et al., 2003) found that Yakult improves stool consistency and constipation.
Each serving of Yakult is said to contain more than eight billion probiotic bacteria. The suggested retail price in the US for a pack of five 2.7 ounce servings is $2.99.
The probiotics market in the US has grown exponentially in the past few years as consumers become more familiar with the benefits of the bacteria for digestive health and immunity.
But there still remains much room for consumer education, and the market is predicted to have significant room to grow for those companies that can effectively communicate the benefits of the ingredient to consumers.
According to Mintel figures provided yesterday, there have been 159 new food and beverage products positioned for digestive health that have been launched on the US market this year to date.
This compares to 81 new launches last year, 39 in 2006 and 17 in 2005.