According to the 2003 Functional Foods Trends Survey by Dairy Foods' sister publication Prepared Foods, probiotics -- those beneficial bacteria that support intestinal health and have been shown to boost immunity -- have moved from the No. 10 position it had in 2000 to the No. 5 position in terms of "the growing importance in functional foods formulation efforts." This is very significant to the dairy industry, as this means that, once again, dairy processors can lose their franchise on an ingredient that truly should belong exclusively to dairy, as "other food" product developers quite possibly are exploring formulation opportunities with probiotic cultures.
It is sad but true. The dairy industry no longer owns calcium, as almost every beverage and food offers consumers a calcium-fortified option. Vitamin D is another lost opportunity. Within the beverage segment, until this past February, milk had exclusive FDA approval for vitamin D fortification. Now, juices and juice drinks can be fortified with vitamin D. Do we want to lose out on probiotics too?
There really is not much from a regulatory perspective to prevent product developers from including probiotics in other food formulations. The limitations come more from the probiotic cultures. In order for the cultures to exert any benefits to the host, which is the person consuming the food, the cultures must maintain viability and activity during processing, shelflife and consumption. And through all of this, cell count must be high enough for the host to reap the benefits.
Dairy foods are the ideal delivery system for probiotic cultures, with most research on the efficacy of specific strains conducted using dairy foods as the carrier.
Before embarking for 3 1/2 days packed with technical symposiums and supplier exhibitions at the 2003 IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo, I asked one of the leading U.S. dairy and food culture technology specialists (and friend), Centennial, Colo.-based Mary Ellen Sanders, if she thought the U.S. probiotic dairy foods category has changed much in the past five years. Her response: "Some. We've had the entry of Dannon's Actimel and all of the Stonyfield Farms yogurts are made with four probiotic culture strains plus inulin. Kefirs, with undefined, potentially probiotic strains have gained popularity, as have drinkable yogurts."
Dairy-based beverages formulated with probiotics were a focal point for many suppliers exhibiting at IFT. And one supplier debuted a probiotic ingredient that uses a patented stabilization system to allow for room temperature distribution, thus enabling the delivery of probiotics beyond dairy and supplements. In fact, the other very popular ingredient vehicle at the show-the nutrition bar-would be an ideal delivery system for this probiotic ingredient line.
Sanders' insight to the probiotic dairy market will hopefully encourage many of you to not let the opportunity with probiotic cultures get out of the refrigerated dairy case. "The dairy industry is headed in the right direction with probiotics, but it might be a little to slow for consumers," she says. "Plus, most probiotic-containing dairy products in the U.S. market today fail to provide meaningful levels of probiotics and fail to provide important information to consumers, such as what strains of probiotics are contained in the product.
"If you don't know the strain designation, you can't determine what research has been conducted on it," she continues. "Also, it is important to know what levels of each of the strains are in the product at the end of shelflife, as well as how much does a consumer need to eat to realize the health benefits and what health benefits have been documented. Obviously not all this can be put on a label, but the information should be readily available. Consumers need to know that dairy products are a serious source for probiotics."
She continues, "The probiotic supplement segment is growing faster than the probiotic dairy segment. Today, U.S. consumers associate probiotics with live, active cultures and hence, with yogurt. If this trend continues, consumers may eventually associate probiotics with pills, or energy bars. This would be a huge misfortune for the dairy industry, and for consumers alike."
I agree. Let's hold onto probiotics. N
Of Growing Importance
Soy protein 1 1
Calcium 2 2
Dietary fiber 3 5
Omega fatty acids 4 6
Probiotics 5 10
Whey protein 6 11
High oleic fats/oils 7 12
Isoflavones 8 4
Vitamin C 9 9
Folic acid 10 7
Vitamin E 12 3
Oligosaccharides 13 13
Lecithin-based nutritionals 14 14