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Proven probiotics breathe more life into yogurt

Source:Food Bev Asia

Date Published:1/14/2019 05:01:25 PM

Probiotics with documented health benefits give dairies a huge opportunity to stand out on the yogurt market in Southeast Asia. But there are challenges to overcome, writes DR. ANDERS HENRIKSSON*.

PROBIOTICS and yogurt go together – and consumers know it. A strong association with digestive health is a prime reason why probiotic yogurt sales are soaring in Southeast Asia (SEA). In the five-year period up to 2020, volume sales are forecast to grow 47%[1].

The question that each dairy company faces is how to capture the biggest possible slice of this opportunity. Success depends on a solid knowledge of what it takes to target each product at specific consumer needs – and the challenges in probiotic yogurt production.

The market for all types of probiotic product, particularly dairy, dietary supplements and infant formula, is booming in Asia as a whole. Consumers are broadly attracted to natural, healthy and functional claims on food packaging. When they buy probiotics, all those claims apply.

Within Asia Pacific, the fast-growing SEA market for probiotic yogurt is no longer far behind the biggest regional market in Japan. An interesting point about this development is that only a few probiotic yogurt launches refer to a specific health benefit. Most bear only the name of the probiotic strain they contain – most often a Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus strain. In the eyes of consumers, they have a healthy glow.

: A DuPont Nutrition & Health consumer survey in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam has confirmed that most consumers perceive probiotics as a healthy ingredient they associate with yogurt.

A DuPont Nutrition & Health consumer survey in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam has confirmed that most consumers perceive probiotics as a healthy ingredient they associate with yogurt.

The friendly bacteria known to consumers

A DuPont Nutrition & Health consumer survey in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam has confirmed that most consumers perceive probiotics as a healthy ingredient they associate with yogurt. In Indonesia, for example, as many as 79% of yogurt-consuming adults recognise probiotics as friendly bacteria. And 76% look at the ingredients or nutritional content on yogurt labels before they buy.

This wide consumer acceptance of probiotic healthiness is a huge advantage for yogurt manufacturers, due to the restrictions placed on health claims by local regulations. Some authorities, such as in Singapore and Indonesia, do now allow manufacturers to use a digestive health claim on product labels that contain probiotics. Fortunately for manufacturers, they have positive consumer perceptions on their side – and a growing wealth of clinical studies to back them up.

Studies of strain-specific effects

Over the past decades, scientists have documented how certain probiotic strains have a specific effect on health. Probiotic culture manufacturers such as DuPont often partner with international universities to identify new strains which can then be used to differentiate new yogurt and other probiotic launches on the market. To date, a vast number of studies have investigated not only the clinical benefits of certain probiotic strains but also their performance in yogurt formulations.

Evidence of the health benefits is stacking up. Today, clinical studies have documented a series of strain-specific effects, such as digestive, immune and women’s health.

Benefits for healthy adults

One of those strains is Bifidobacterium lactis Bl-04®. Among the studies of particular interest are clinical trials that have explored the ability of Bl-04® to improve resistance to the common cold. A study[2] of 310 healthy adults, for example, has found that Bl-04® reduced the risk of upper respiratory tract illness – including the common cold – by 27%.

In published clinical studies of gut comfort and functionality, another Bifidobacterium lactis strain –HN019 – has been seen to reduce colonic transit time in healthy adults, bringing constipation relief. Participants further experienced a reduction in abdominal pain, gurgling, nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms3.

A daily HN019 supplement is also proven to maintain and improve the immune function of senior consumers as they age4, helping to reduce the prevalence and severity of a range of infections.

A third strain – Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM® – has been shown to bring about a positive improvement in gut pain and bloating. Since the first clinical trial was conducted in the early 1980s, a large number of published studies have investigated the effect of NCFM® on gastrointestinal functionality.

Today, there are a number of starter cultures on the market that can support probiotic viability in yogurt up to a 45-day shelf life.

Today, there are a number of starter cultures on the market that can support probiotic viability in yogurt up to a 45-day shelf life.

Improved health in children

Studies in India have documented the effect of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 in children at risk of diarrhoea and other infections. In one placebo-controlled study5, a daily dose of HN019 reduced the incidence of diarrhoea by 50% during the rainy season, when children are most likely to fall ill with diarrhoea and fever. Yogurt manufacturers can draw on such findings when developing new products for particular consumer groups. That could be for younger consumers in Indonesia, where the average age of the population is just below 30, or the older generation in Singapore, where the average age is above 406. The possibilities for targeted marketing are many.

The challenge of probiotic survival

But there is more to probiotic yogurt production than choosing the strain that gives a specific effect. Ensuring probiotic viability during yogurt shelf life is key to brand credibility. According to the Codex Alimentarius guide, yogurt must contain at least 106 live bacteria per gram at the end of shelf life for a content claim. To be sure of any health benefit, the live bacteria at the end of shelf life should be at the same level as that used in clinical trials.  For this reason, manufacturers must consider the impact of other ingredients in the yogurt recipe – particularly the starter culture responsible for the acidification process. This is where probiotic survival can be in jeopardy.

Manufacturers depend on the properties of the starter culture to provide the desired taste and texture in the final yogurt product. However, factors such as temperature fluctuations can be responsible for changes in product quality over the course of shelf life. Post-acidification of yogurt after production is one such example, resulting in a drop in pH. This both has an impact on sensory quality, as the product becomes more acidic, and reduces the probiotic cell count, compromising or even eliminating the documented health effect.

In many areas of SEA, breaks in the cold chain or inefficient refrigeration during storage mean the risk of post-acidification is high. For this reason, manufacturers should be selective when choosing the starter culture for their yogurt production. A low tendency to post-acidification is critical.

Trials with selected starter cultures

Today, there are a number of starter cultures on the market that can support probiotic viability in yogurt up to a 45-day shelf life. Such cultures offer both low post-acidification and a wide range of sensory attributes, from mild to extra mild tastes and medium to very high textures – giving manufacturers broad opportunities to satisfy market preferences. Application trials have shown that the probiotic cell count of yogurts made with these starter cultures is still at target level at the end of shelf life, indicating that the documented health effect is intact. However, it is important to emphasize here that manufacturers should always conduct trials of their own, as cell counts will vary according to their yogurt process, recipe, packaging and distribution channels.

Beyond digestive and immune health in probiotic yogurt 

Years of scientific research lie behind the probiotic strains and starter cultures that are now commercially available to the yogurt industry. Manufacturers in SEA stand before major opportunities to launch probiotic yogurts with outstanding sensory properties and the documented health-enhancing properties that consumers of all ages need and expect – right to the end of yogurt shelf life. Despite the regulatory limits on health claims, consumers widely connect probiotics with benefits for digestive health. Ongoing clinical research is expanding this potential. In the coming years, we can expect benefits for the immune system, metabolic health and brain health to join the list of proven attributes. For one of the world’s fastest-growing, probiotic yogurt markets, that’s an exciting prospect.


*Dr. Anders Henriksson is principal application specialist at DuPont Nutrition & Health.

[1] Euromonitor, 2016

[2] West et al, Probiotic supplementation for respiratory and gastrointestinal illness symptoms in healthy physically active individuals, Clinical Nutrition, 2014

3 Waller et al, Dose-response effect of Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 on whole gut

transit time and functional gastrointestinal symptoms in adults, Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2011

4 Miller et al, The Effect of Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis HN019 on Cellular Immune Function in Healthy Elderly Subjects: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Nutrients 2017

5 Hemalatha et al, A Community-based Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Trial of Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium lactis on Reducing Risk for Diarrhea and Fever in Preschool Children in an

Urban Slum in India, European Journal of Nutrition & Food Safety 2014 




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