Moving outside dairy

by Allison Gibeson
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Functional products that feature probiotics primarily entered the market through the retail dairy case, but with developments in technology it is now possible to find products featuring probiotics in such diverse items as pasta or tea.

Based in Melrose Park, Ill., Racconto Imported Italian Foods has introduced its Essentials Digestive Health pastas. The pastas come in penne rigate, rotini and rigatoni shapes, and the product line was just launched this summer.

“If we can be first to market with this, it will definitely give us a point of differentiation,” said Rod Bambach, vice-president of sales for Racconto Foods. “It fits in well with our health and wellness pastas … and it married well with the product.”

Mr. Bambach said it is important for consumers to understand that while pasta may be a new application for probiotics, the organisms survive the manufacturing process and are still viable in the product. He said consumers questioning if the probiotics are viable in pastas would be the only barrier for such a product, and the company took efforts in its on pack messaging to explain the probiotics do survive manufacturing and cooking.

“We’ve always taken a look at, in addition to conventional pasta, where the opportunities for growth are in the category,” Mr. Bambach said. “Something that is just different from the conventional … We took a look at digestive products and what was happening with the yogurt category.”

He said another important aspect of the pastas is the probiotics don’t leave any off flavors, tastes or colors. He said pasta is an important application for probiotics because it has such a wide consumer base as there is around a 96% household penetration rate for pasta. While many consumers may be looking for a digestive health product, many may not want it in the form of a dairy-based product. So probiotics in pasta gives more people the option of a digestive health food product.

Other new products featuring probiotics include Bigelow Lemon Ginger Herb Plus Probiotics tea as well as a new probiotic milk line from Guernsey Farms Dairy and yogurt-covered raisins offered through a partnership between Ganeden Biotech, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio, and Tropical Nut & Fruit, Charlotte, N.C. Attune Foods, San Francisco, offers bars and granola products with probiotics. In addition, Pierre’s Ice Cream Co., Cleveland, launched its Yovation frozen yogurt line with probiotics in 2009.

“Probiotic products have certainly become more popular with consumers in recent years,” said Matthew Thornicroft, a Pierre’s spokesperson. “With the recognition by the medical community of the benefits of probiotics, people are now much more aware of these benefits and are looking for other ways of introducing them into their diet. Yovation was created to fill that role.”

Mr. Thornicroft said frozen desserts are popular as it is, so adding probiotics to a product consumers already enjoy was some of the reasoning behind Yovation. He said the company is exploring new Yovation flavors for 2011 and is planning on expanding distribution into more areas.

One of the most well-known probiotic products is the Activia line from The Dannon Co, White Plains, N.Y., a subsidiary of Groupe Danone, Paris. The yogurt was introduced in the U.S. market in 2006, and Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations, said it made $130 million in sales during its first year and continues to resonate with consumers four years later. The company recently introduced Activia desserts in strawberry cheesecake, blueberry cheesecake, vanilla bean and peach cobbler. There are also Activia Fiber, Activia Light and Activia Drinks products.

Dannon also has a line of DanActive dairy drinks with a different strain of probiotics that is said to help strengthen the body’s defenses.

“Occasionally, consumers see all probiotics as one and the same, mistakenly believing that all can provide the same benefits, whereas in actuality specific probiotic strains by their very definition have specific benefits,” Mr. Neuwirth said. “Misconceptions such as this are a call for manufacturers to continue to educate about what we call strain specificity.”

Mr. Neuwirth said to educate the public the company is supporting a PBS documentary that is in production now called “Probiotics — Micro Warriors of the Digestive Tract.” The documentary is designed to address some of the common misconceptions about the benefits of probiotics and the science behind probiotics.

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