Probiotics Ripe for an Exciting Phase
But Strategy Choice Will Be Key For Success

by: Aurore De Monclin & Deepak Gunvante

In this article HMT expert consultants Deepak Gunvante and Aurore de Monclin describe the future opportunity for probiotics in light of its historical development. Their conclusion: future strategies must be based on deep science where Targeted Nutrition benefits are combined with storytelling about the tradition and naturalness of probiotics that connects to consumers – rather than merely functional claims.

The relationship between probiotics and good intestinal health has been fascinating scientists since early 1900’s and is still very relevant as we enter the era of nutrition, seeking ways to improve our health by going to the root cause of the problem.

Yesterday: Restoring the Good Bacteria

Alexander Fleming invented Penicillin in 1928, however it appears as if we have had antibiotics for much longer than last 90 years! Around the same time in early 1900’s, first association of probiotics was observed by E. Metchnikoff associated the enhanced longevity of Bulgarian rural people to the regular consumption of fermented dairy products such as yoghurt. And Dr. Minoru Shirota in Japan was the first to have isolated probiotic strain in 1930 and commercialized the same under Yakult brand.

Up until late 90’s, conscious of the drawbacks of antibiotics which eliminate all the bacteria, the bad and the good, the progress in science enabled to select specific bacterial strains beneficial to gut. The focus was then about finding a way to ingest enough of these good bacteria and ensuring they reach the digestive system, resulting in the launch of functional probiotic yoghurts. And the real commercial success came from the fact that consumers could feel the difference when consuming these products through better digestion. Pioneering companies like Yakult and Danone contributed to the success of probiotic yogurts with consumer education about the function and benefits of probiotics – the good bacteria.

Today:  Give me an authentic story I can understand

There has been an explosion of Probiotic products since last couple of decades with probiotics available to consumers in different formats and for different health benefit propositions which go beyond digestion. And two market entry strategies are evident, one that of Yakult and Danone, who started off by providing functional benefits and eventually moving towards the mass market and in parallel a second market entry strategy starting off with traditional yogurts, kefirs, sour milk etc. which have moved to convenience, branding and eventually providing functional benefit. What we see in the marketplace today is a good intersection of both these.

The booming success of probiotics in the Asia market (+75% in Asia Pacific from 2009-2017) has been primarily due to quick adoption by a new generation of the health-conscious Millennials seeking to re-balance their gut health. Nutrition in first 1000 days viz. pregnancy and up to 2 years of Infant, is of paramount importance and there is increasing understanding that probiotics play a critical role during this phase.

In Europe, the category development had a halt due to legislation barriers which resulted in the loss for probiotic yoghurt and fermented milk sales between 2009-2017 of 19.3% in value. The claims led marketing strategy of the probiotic functional yogurts came to a halt. But luckily, consumers were now to hear more about the naturalness of probiotics ie the good bacteria for your health….

Today’s consumers are interested in hearing what tradition from other parts of the world could be beneficial to their health. It also satisfies their search for natural and authenticity: a health story they could relate to, that has been tried and tested in another culture and a process they can understand, even do at home by themselves.

Hence the success of naturally fermented foods such as Kombucha, Kefir, Tempeh which have been consumed for years in a certain culture, suddenly being adopted by a new market e.g. Kombucha fast becoming the new soft drink in the US. This in a way is a shortcut for introducing the idea of fermented milk or yoghurt into a new region.

Two Innovation Strategies can apply here: Active Nutrition focusing on Natural Functional and Natural Nutrition focusing on Natural Processed working with Nature.

Tomorrow: Life Long Well-Being through Modulating Microbiome Health?

What happens in your gut, does not stay in your gut…

Gut is at the heart of health, as a super organ that has an impact through 100 trillion bacteria on many functions in the body such as immune system, metabolism and uptake of nutrition, the production of vitamins, etc. The fact that 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut, has provided an altogether a different paradigm of ‘second brain’ and its impact on our cognitive abilities through the gut-brain axis.

There is a growing awareness that we must cherish the good bacteria within us and outside (skin but even at home), that we have a unique gut microbiota which is affected by key factors such as age, food and lifestyle. And most importantly, probiotics have a natural aura and is accepted by all age groups, from millennials right up to aged.

Targeted Nutrition is a strategy that cutting-edge science companies are applying to identify specific probiotic strains that have a specific targeted effect on modulating the microbiome to prevent non-communicable diseases, for example lowering cholesterol to prevent heart diseases. And this is even more relevant for Asian population who are at higher risk of non-communicable diseases due to their genetic predisposition of higher body fat. And there appears a resurgence of tradition in Asia in modern formats such as Koji in Japan, Korean Khimchi cultures in Fruit drinks.

In the future, specific Prebiotics will also have a greater role to play in modulating the microbiome. In addition, in this context, the one size fits all strategy seems out dated, that’s why I-Nutrition can truly come into play as science is helping us to learn how our own gut microbiota is affecting us.

Tomorrow’s driver is to build life-long well-being through modulating microbiome health by protecting against diseases. The microbiome arena is ripe for exciting times ahead to potentially provide smart choices for tomorrow’s consumers.

*About Healthy Marketing Team
The Healthy Marketing Team, HMT, is a private consulting company, founded 2008 in London and since 2018 with its head quarter in Malmö, Sweden. The company now has a permanent representation in Malmö (Greater Copenhagen), London and Singapore – and a growing network of global FourFactors® partners. HMT has been working with nutrition clients in more than 60 countries. The main product, Four Factors® Brand Acceleration System, has been developed since nearly twenty years and is today established as the leading method for consumer and brand centric innovation for food, beverages, supplements and food ingredients. The method and approach are unique and has, so far, been trademarked in more than 35 countries.