Developing demographic-specific formulations and validating health claims must be a focus for probiotic manufacturers targeting Asian markets, according to an industry analyst.
Frost & Sullivan analysis detailed that Asia Pacific’s probiotic cultures market pulled in revenues of US$310m in 2011 and this is set to surge to US$522.8m by 2018.
Japan leads Asia’s probiotics sector, followed by Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand and the strongest market players are multinationals like Yakult Honsha, Meiji Seika, Chr Hansen and Morinaga.
Nandhini Rajagopal, senior research analyst for Chemicals, Materials and Food at Frost & Sullivan said tailoring probiotics to cater to the varying consumer groups across Asia will be essential in driving the market forward.
“Identifying the health-related issues in different geographic regions of Asia Pacific and preparing new suitable strain formulations,” will be key in driving growth and success in the probiotic cultures market across the region, she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Not only are health needs different, but “gut physiology differs according to demographics,” she said.
“A significant number of Southeast Asians experience herxheimer reactions (inflammatory response when probiotic cultures are consumed for the first time), which occur post consumption of single or multispecies probiotic supplements. Hence, developing or identifying demographic-compatible strains is important,” she detailed.
Ageing also impacts gut physiology, and the protective abilities of the human intestine, she said, and so older consumers have increased risk to infections and probiotics “act as a preventative medicine that helps the digestive tract regain its strength.” High numbers of people aged above 60 in Japan (29%) therefore create substantial market opportunities for probiotic cultures, she added.
Validating health claims
Along with tailoring probiotic cultures to different demographics, manufacturers must also work to validate health claims associated with their probiotic product, Rajagopal said. “Understanding the regulations in different countries of Asia Pacific and performing the appropriate clinical trials,” will be an important part in this, but it is essential firms validate claims through trials.
However, these validations then need to be communicated clearly to the consumer, she said, and in many cases this will involve a level of educating too. “Awareness campaigns will prove vital as it will enable consumers to differentiate between validated and invalidated health claims.”
Familiar growth opportunities…
“Dairy is the dominant segment in Asia Pacific’s probiotics market as yogurts are already being consumed as part of the daily diet,” Rajagopal said, and this is also the area seeing the most growth. Within dairy, fermented milk drinks and yogurt are products that hold the most growth promise, she added.
However while this is a promising area due to its solid current market, “the dietary supplement segment of probiotic cultures is expected to have the highest growth rate,” she noted.
“The longer shelf-life of dietary supplement probiotics and the availability of disease specific products are the major market drivers,” for this segment, she added.
Supplements bypass the major challenge facing the probiotic cultures industry; refrigeration, she said, adding to their appeal. However, new technologies in microencapsulation are addressing this shortcoming and scientists are also screening and identifying new strains that can withstand high and low temperatures, she said.
The future of probiotic fortified foods across Asia is bright, Rajagopal said, with rising purchasing power enabling consumers to pay out premium prices and a steadily increasing awareness on the health benefits of such products. However customising strains for specific demographics and applications and investing further in communicating the health benefits to end users, ideally through validated claims, will be essential in underpinning future success across the market, she said.