From scientists to shelves: developing technology from the University of Queensland

PERKii pledges to shake up the probiotic beverage aisle

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Functional drinks: 'They're everywhere!' PERKii sees consumers proactively address health and wellness.
Functional drinks: 'They're everywhere!' PERKii sees consumers proactively address health and wellness.

Related tags Functional drinks Probiotic Lactobacillus

Probiotic water PERKii is launching in Australia, using patented technology developed by scientists at The University of Queensland that claims to ensure the delivery of live probiotics to the digestive system. 

PERKii, which is led by former Coca-Cola Amatil national business manager Randolph Milne, has been in a trial period since September 2015 in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. It is now available in Caltex Woolworths around the country.  

Milne told BeverageDaily that, while functional drinks are prolific in the Australian market, the probiotic beverage category needs shaking up. He wants his brand to move the category on from the ‘same small yogurt drinks full of sugar’.

From the scientists to the shelves

PERKii uses microgels – tiny natural beads designed to encapsulate live probiotics and ensure survival through the acidic stomach environment to the lower digestive system. The process of creating the technology, called Progel, was developed on a commercial scale by University of Queensland scientist Bhesh Bhandari.

PERKii is the only brand to use this technology, which it says enables it to create an 85% water beverage that delivers live probiotics (Lactobacillus casei LC431).

It uses natural flavours (coconut and lime, raspberry and pomegranate, green tea and elderflower), has 26 calories per serve, and one and a half teaspoons of sugar from apples. It is lactose free and packaged in a 300ml bottle.

Milne says the beverage’s trial period in south-east Queensland has proved the interest for non-dairy probiotic products.

"The label change was a reflection of going from a lab experiment to a consumer product"

PERKii CEO Randolph Milne

“Our sales, without any real marketing, were very pleasing,” ​said Milne. “When we can sell a brand-new product simply because it has the word ‘probiotic’ on the label and isn’t in a dairy format, we know we are on to something.  Consumers love the taste, the technology developed at a world-leading university, and the low calorie aspect.”

The bottles and labels have recently been redesigned to become more consumer friendly, added Milne.

“This came out of necessity,” he ​said. “When we first started, our scientists were simply hand-filling ‘shampoo’ bottles in a laboratory.  But as sales grew, this wasn’t going to keep up with orders. 

“So we worked with our bottle supplier and contract filler to come up with a bottle that was capable of being filled on a full-scale filling line.  The label change was a reflection of appealing to our consumers, and taking us from a lab experiment to a consumer product and educating consumers on what PERKii is.”

PERKii's primary market is women aged 30 to 50, but Milne sees the beverage as one for everybody. With the sugar tax debate raging and the continued focus on health and wellness, he believes it is the perfect time to offer a drink that is tasty but low in sugar.

Along with a list of national stockists, PERKii is available nationally from Caltex Woolworths and convenience sites and Woolworths Bondi and Surry Hills. PERKii was also invited to take part in Woolworth’s Wstart program, an initiative aimed at start-ups.

PERKii has secured investors such as Uniseed, UniQuest and the Brisbane Angels.

Shaking up probiotic drinks

Milne believes his brand can shake up the probiotic market not only in Australia but further afield.

“The shelves [in Australia] are becoming cluttered with functional foods and drinks,” ​he said. “Not only in supermarkets, but in convenience stores, chemists and take-away restaurants.

“Have a look around at the amount of protein drinks on the market, drinks containing vitamins and minerals and the most traditional of functional drinks, cold-pressed juices. They’re everywhere."

However, the probiotic drink market needs to see change, said Milne. 

“Walk into any store, and you’ll see the same small shot-like yogurt drinks full of sugar waiting to be picked up. 

“It has been like this for the past 30 years. Well, we’re here now, and we want to change this, not just here, but around the world.”

Functional drinks are important to consumers because they want to gain as much from food and drink as possible, said Milne.

“Consumers understand that weight control and overall health is more to do with your diet than anything else. The next evolution of this is to find products that proactively increase your health, immunity, muscle growth, so on and so forth.

“Given our time-poor lifestyles, any advantage we can gain as consumers from our everyday foods and beverages is worth its weight in gold. What we are trying to do is give this to consumers, but not sacrifice any taste so making PERKii a part of their everyday routine is an easy thing to do.”

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