Probiotic industry needs more scientific back-up

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Related tags: Probiotic, Us

The US probiotic industry needs to step up a gear and finance
further research in order to win over consumer confidence by
providing scientific proof of its health benefits, according to
research published by the International Food Information Service

Probiotics is a growth industry in the States, said the report​, but the industry "must develop a proactive policy in order to bolster consumer confidence in commercial probiotic products"​.

"A product may therefore be produced which has an acceptable taste and price, is convenient for consumers, and communicates product advantages to them in a fashion that is truthful, does not mislead and complies with regulatory constraints,"​ said the researchers.

The study added that this is essential given recent publications suggesting that commercial probiotic products do not comply with label claims, though agrees that this is not the case for the whole industry and notes that placebo-controlled, randomized studies have been carried out with "well-defined and well-described products"​.

Moreover, the researchers add that although US consumers have a plethora of probiotic products to choose from, "consumers have no rational basis for their choice of product"​.

"Useful information would include third party verification of stated levels and types of viable probiotics until the end of the product shelf life,"​ added the scientists.

Accurate labeling of the content of a probiotic product is, obviously, essential, but many studies have found the actual delivery of probiotic bacteria does not match the content claim information on their labels.

One piece of research cited to back up this claim was that by Huff and published in the Canadian Family Physician​ (50:583-587), which stated that none of ten Lactobacillus products purchased in lower British Columbia, Canada, met label claims when looked at using streak plating from growth on blood agar.

The study by IFIS does note, however, that Huff's research could have been at least partially misleading as blood agar is not the growth medium of choice for lactobacilli which have been selected as probiotics, and no control strains of lactobacilli were plated using this procedure to ensure the validity of the methods used.

An example of the possible confusion regarding labeling of probiotic products, said the researchers can be seen in yogurt, which is the main probiotic food in the US. It is estimated that about 80 percent of the approximately $3 billion of yogurt sold in the US each year contains additional bacteria for health benefits.

"Yogurt labels disclose the presence of these adjunct microbes, but there is essentially no information on the levels, strains or, in the case of Bifidobacterium, even species contained in such products,"​ said the researchers.

Probiotics is one of the fastest growing functional food markets worldwide. The US probiotics market is forecast to more than triple in value from $143.9 million currently to $394 million in 2010, according to recent statistics from Frost & Sullivan.

However, the research company noted in its report last year that limited consumer awareness and scanty scientific research threatened to restrain the development of the probiotics market. Consumer knowledge of probiotics is still low in the US and restricted to a fairly small range of products.

"Increasing public knowledge of probiotics has been cited by most companies as their first priority. However, many probiotic manufacturers are not in direct contact with the consumer and must rely on marketing investment by end-users such as dairy companies,"​ explained Frost & Sullivan food industry analyst Lyndsey Greig.

Related topics: Dairy-based ingredients

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