Yili has been producing dairy products containing probiotics, most notably in yogurt, cheese, and ice-cream. The Inner Mongolia head-quartered company also operates in the milk powder, liquid milk, and bottled water sectors.
While there has been an onslaught of both local and overseas probiotics brands wanting a piece of the pie, Yili believes that there is still “huge growth potential” in China’s probiotic market.
“As the Chinese consumers’ awareness of probiotics grows, there has been a rise in probiotic brands that target the country’s younger generation. They have found a niche in the probiotics market with attractive packaging, new concepts, and insightful understanding of the consumers.
“These brands interact with consumers and disseminate information about the benefits of probiotics on social media platforms.
“Most Chinese consumers have a good basic knowledge about the effects of probiotics on intestinal health, immunity, skin health, oral health, and fat loss, which is inseparable from the efforts of these brands,” Dr. Zhanyou Yun, assistant president of Yili Group said.
Healthy ageing is one area where Yili is seeing opportunities for new probiotics product innovation.
A report by Lumina Intelligence shows that China consumers’ interest in probiotics for adult and infant health has been growing.
For instance, as of June 2021, the number of online reviews for probiotics for general, adult, and infant health was up 93 per cent, 23 per cent, and 12 per cent.
For its upcoming launch, Yili will be focusing on meeting the needs of the ageing population – which span from digestive to bone health, Dr. Yun told NutraIngredients-Asia.
“In addition to traditional dairy products, Yili is also exploring new categories and new formats of probiotic-featuring products to satisfy the health needs of middle-aged and elderly people related to digestion, bone health, immunity, and blood pressure control,” he said.
The launch is a solid beverage known as BL-99 for the middle-aged and elderly consumers and will hit the market in end April.
According to Dr. Yun, a solid beverage can be carried and stored easily. It also contains a higher quantity of viable bacteria, which explains the firm's decision for launching its new product in this format.
In China, solid beverages are defined as general foods prepared by processing raw food materials and food additives into powder, granules, or lumps. They are not the same as health foods or infant formulas.
BL-99, which contains Bifidobacterium lactis BL-99, is Yili’s proprietary probiotic strain isolated from the gut of a Chinese healthy infant and has secured a patent in the US.
“Our solid beverage product combines BL-99 and fructo-oligosaccharides alongside the functional ingredients GABA and acerola.
“Studies have shown that this strain has positive effects on digestive health, immunity, and bone health, and can use fruto-oligosaccharides to multiply for energy,” he added.
To date, the studies conducted on BL-99 are mostly in-vitro and animal experiments.
Each sachet contains 20bn CFU of BL-99 and 30mg of GABA.
The product does not make health claims as it is not regulated as a health food, although it says on the packaging “four layers of protection” and is printed with relevant icons to denote its benefits for gut, bone, immunity, and blood pressure control.
The Bifidobacterium lactis BL-99 strain is also incorporated into another product known as Yixiao Yogurt.
Launched in 2019, the product won the Best Yogurt Innovation of the Year at the Dairy Asia Pacific Summit in the same year.
Lactobacillus paracasei R&D
Yili is also exploring the different health benefits of the Lactobacillus paracasei strains.
Earlier this year, the company launched an ambient fermented lactobacillus drink containing the proprietary strain Lactobacillus paracasei K56 via the product known as Changyi 100%. Each bottle contains 10m CFU of Lactobacillus paracasei K56 – a strain that has received three patents thus far.
“This product was developed as a direct response to Chinese consumers’ demands for products that can be stored safely at room temperature,” Dr. Yun said, adding that the strain has been shown to exhibit weight management, blood sugar control, and intestinal flora modulating effects.
Similarly, the most studies conducted on the strain are pre-clinical and animal studies.
A recent study published in Probiotics Antimicrobial Proteins reported that the strain has shown to slow down body weight gain and reduce fat accumulation in a mouse model.
Southeast Asia focus
Outside of China, the company will focus on expanding its presence in Southeast Asia.
"We are optimistic about the probiotics market prospects there and is participating in Asian conferences focusing on lactic acid bacteria yearly," said Dr. Yun.
As part of its R&D efforts, the company is studying the intestinal microbiota of the population within the Asia-Pacific region, alongside their traditional fermented foods, in the hope of finding high-quality probiotic strains.