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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Nutritional Outlook interviewed representatives from the International Probiotics Association and the Global Prebiotic Association about whether there is growing collaboration between the probiotic and prebiotic industries.
Probiotics and prebiotics are each successful dietary supplement, food, and beverage ingredient categories in their own right, but could makers of these ingredients begin working together more closely in the future in order to grow their markets further? Following last week’s Natural Products Expo West trade show, Nutritional Outlook interviewed representatives from the International Probiotics Association and the Global Prebiotic Association about whether there is growing synergy between the probiotic and prebiotic industries.
At Expo West, International Probiotics Association president Michael Bush said that the probiotics industry is in fact addressing the topic of prebiotics in more industry discussions. “We see that space growing and complementing the probiotic world,” he said. Bush pointed to growing a focus on prebiotics at leading probiotic events such as the IPA World Congress + Probiota. That event, most recently hosted by William Reed Business Media in February, featured sessions on prebiotics and what consumers understand about the role of both pre- and probiotics within the gut microbiota. Likewise, this June at the Probiota Americas conference in Miami, “we will also have a prebiotic track to help people understand the benefits,” Bush added. Bush is also executive director at Kerry Ingredients (Beloit, WI) for ingredient brands Wellmune and probiotic Ganeden BC30.
Is the probiotics industry concerned that prebiotics could steal some of their share of the digestive-health market? Bush said no. “I think that most of the probiotic companies are looking at prebiotics as an opportunity to expand their own portfolios or to work in concert with other companies. The probiotic world and the prebiotic world, I don’t think they’re going to hurt each other,” he said. “Prebiotics, if anything else, will just further elevate thoughts behind the microbiome. With a prebiotic, you get a broader coverage of the microbiome. You’re helping commensal bacteria, and you’re helping the bacteria that’s indigenous to the gut grow, while with probiotics, you’re putting something in the gut for a specific purpose.”
Nutritional Outlook also interviewed the Global Prebiotic Association, a group formed last fall during the SuppySide West trade show by Trust Transparency Consulting, an incubator of nutrition industry ingredient-specific trade associations. The association’s current members include leading prebiotics firm Prenexus Health, as well as contract researchers like Nutrasource Diagnostics and KGK Science.
Len Monheit, managing partner at Trust Transparency, spoke on behalf of the prebiotics association and its members about future probiotic/prebiotic collaboration. “We think there is an opportunity and need for the two closely related sectors to work together,” he said. “We see these categories continuing to develop side by side, but there will sometime divergent issues to deal with. We foresee close dialogue between scientific, technical, and communications groups; sometimes the regulatory dialogue is a bit separate.”
Even as each sector works to address its own issues, Monheit said, there is strong reason to continue trying to align the two categories: the fact that each ingredient enhances the benefits of the other. “There is no question that the emerging science surrounding the microbiome often links pre- and probiotics,” he said. And, he added, “consumers currently have a good understanding of the role of probiotics, so it’s an easy extension to understand that prebiotics provide a selective food source to bacteria that then leads to a positive health outcome.”
And while the prebiotics market still lacks the type of strong, consumer-facing advocates that have paved the way for probiotic success with consumers-advocates such as Danone-Monheit said that he hopes the Global Prebiotic Association can become the force that stimulates market growth. “To date, there has not been a sole voice for prebiotics. It’s emerging, and we at GPA intend to be that voice,” he said.
The association’s goal moving forward will be to transition the focus of prebiotic marketing from the industry’s longtime depiction of prebiotics as a fiber to messaging that highlights the role of prebiotics in the microbiome and overall health. “Part of our challenge will be to restart the conversation about the microbiome-not relying on fiber, but telling a distinct story where not all fiber has prebiotic activity and not all prebiotics need necessarily be fibers,” Monheit added. He said that the association is investing in education efforts to help shift the messaging.
Monheit said he believes that the market is ready for a larger role for prebiotics: “The success of probiotics has paved the way for prebiotics to take their place; consumers and educators are ready,” he said. He noted that some estimates put the current value of the U.S. prebiotics market at $280 million and that the association has seen CAGR projections ranging from 12% to 15%. Those numbers, he said, might even be underestimating prebiotic sales, surmising that their “trajectory is more like probiotics” in fact.
What could the future look like in terms of enhanced synergies between these ingredients? More opportunity-seeking ingredient firms may be looking to fill their portfolios with both a probiotic and a complementary prebiotic in the future.
The ideal scenario would be to create and study a synbiotic formulation in a clinical trial in order to demonstrate the true health benefits of a particular prebiotic and probiotic pairing, said Don Cox, senior vice president of R&D and business development at Kerry Ingredients/Biothera Health (Eagan, MN), at Expo West. “The perfect scenario in the future would be if you had a probiotic paired with a specific prebiotic that exactly helped the benefit of that individual strain of probiotic,” he said. That type of scientifically backed ingredient hybrid would be the ultimate synbiotic achievement, Cox added, and a strong market entrant.
When asked if a lot of companies are currently conducting research on prebiotic-probiotic combinations, Bush said he thinks that “everyone’s doing a little bit of work in that space.” Whether those efforts solidify into further market development remains to be seen.