It has been more than a decade since the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics was formed with the intent to elevate scientific credibility of the field so marketers may put the beneficial ingredients into action in the consumer packaged goods industry. The group has been successful in their efforts while the food industry has been a bit slower than expected to embrace the discipline. Still, suppliers are optimistic business will continue to grow despite a variety of roadblocks.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on a host. They positively alter the body’s bacterial composition to encourage overall wellness. Some strains provide such specific benefits as improved intestinal function and increased immune response.

Prebiotics are food for probiotics and are selectively fermented by the beneficial bacteria. When the two are found together, they work in synergy, with the process described as synbiotic.

“The greatest roadblocks to using prebiotics and probiotics in dairy are not on the technical side; it really comes down to the consumer,” said Neelesh Varde, senior product manager for Roquette, Geneva, Ill.

Consumer education is one impediment, and price is another. After all, there is cost associated with adding the valued-added ingredients in product formulations, but consumers are not always willing to pay more.

The higher standard of evidence required by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to substantiate claims is another hindrance, as global dairy processors seek ways to communicate the benefits of their products.

“Several member states have gone on to ban the words ‘probiotic’ and ‘live active cultures’ from product labels in the absence of approved claims,” said Mary Ellen Sanders, a global authority on probiotics based in Centennial, Colo. “This goes too far, and is not consistent with the level of science that exists for probiotics.”

Use of the term prebiotic, as well as associated claims, is even rarer. Application is further hindered by the inability to distinguish one product from the next.

“There is a need for research on endpoints relevant to the general population that are appropriate for foods,” Dr. Sanders said. “But unfortunately, the F.D.A. wants to make it impossible to conduct human research on functional effects of foods — they see such research as drug research. So unless the F.D.A. repeals text from a recent guidance, food companies that are looking to better understand health benefits associated with their foods won’t be allowed to do the food research in the United States.”

Business is booming

Though there are many obstacles, the addition of prebiotics and probiotics into dairy products continues to grow as the health- and wellness-seeking consumer gains a better understanding of their benefits.

“The probiotics market is growing, with no indication it will be slowing down soon,” said Mike Bush, senior vice-president, Ganeden Biotech, Cleveland. “By 2015, the market is expected to reach $31.1 billion globally, with about 90% of that from the sale of functional foods and beverages.”

The prebiotics market directly benefits from the growth in probiotics. In fact, many consumers recognize the two as going hand-in-hand, especially in fermented dairy foods. But non-fermented dairy foods also may benefit from the addition of prebiotics, said Deborah Schulz, specialty carbohydrates product line manager, Cargill, Minneapolis.

“Products such as milk can still taste like milk yet be enhanced with prebiotics,” she said. The prebiotics travel to the lower intestine and get fermented there by the local microbiota.

Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J., agrees that the market for prebiotic fibers continues to grow in the United States.

“The trend for increased fiber, however, seems to be the real driver, while prebiotic is a benefit that has not necessarily been sought after in a significant way yet,” he said.

Dairy products are a natural fit for probiotics and prebiotics.

“Consumers already expect dairy products such as milk and yogurt to be healthy, so there is no disconnect when these functional ingredients are added,” said Peggy Steele, global business director-food and beverage, probiotics for DuPont Nutrition & Health, Madison, Wis. “They just enhance the innate healthfulness of the products.

“The obvious candidates for probiotics and prebiotics are yogurt, kefir, milk, other dairy-based beverages such as smoothies and low-fat dairy items. Yogurt-based dips, especially those made with Greek yogurt and have higher protein levels, are also an opportunity for further fortification. Cultured dairy products have a long tradition of use for their health benefits, so it’s a logical step to enhance them with more functional ingredients.”

Probiotic power

Suppliers offer a range of probiotics —both single strains and proprietary blends — many with research supporting their efficacy in digestive and immune health.

“Probiotics are identified at three levels: genus, species and strain,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist, application manager-fermented milk and probiotics, cultures and enzymes, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee. “It is important to know that the probiotic health effect is related to the strain.”

For example, not all Bifidobacteria are probiotic.

“We offer Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis, a strain known as BB-12,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “It has been clinically documented to show health benefits and can be termed probiotic. BB-12 has been used since 1984 as an ingredient in food and dietary supplements worldwide. It has been tested in numerous clinical studies and has demonstrated health benefits within gastrointestinal health.”

Chr. Hansen recently began offering BB-12 in conjunction with an authentic Greek yogurt culture series sourced from the Agricultural University of Athens strain collection.

“The new cultures make it easy for Greek yogurt producers to obtain optimal taste and texture,” Ms. Curic-Bawden said. “They also perform extraordinarily well in low-fat milk. The cultures are designed to produce excellent Greek-type yogurt using either separation technology or milk powder fortification to reach the high protein level.”

DuPont offers a number of well-documented, clinically studied probiotics, including Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 and Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM. The latter has been extensively studied since the early 1970s, Ms. Steele said.

“It was the first probiotic strain to have its genome fully sequenced,” she said. “It is supported by a long list of successful clinical studies focused on digestive health.” For immune health the company offers Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001.

“For probiotics to deliver a healthy benefit, they need to remain alive and active, as well as be added at a particular level of potency so that the recommended amount of probiotics is delivered to the end consumer. With our probiotics, we have established target levels through research studies that demonstrate efficacy. Not all probiotics are the same. Different strains have different stability and levels at which they are efficacious.

“When formulating with probiotics, typical challenges that need to be considered include elevated temperatures in processing and storage and low pH. For probiotics to survive processing, they should be added at a point in the process when there are no more heating steps and the product has been cooled.”

Distribution and storage temperatures should typically be in the refrigeration range. If pH may be adjusted up (typically to >3.8), survivability may be greatly enhanced, Ms. Steele said. At lower pH levels, high overages may be necessary in order to achieve desired shelf life. Other factors that may influence survivability include oxygen content, metabolic carbohydrates, mechanical stress during processing, impact from other additives and inoculation practices.

Mr. Bush said many of the processing and product composition hurdles may be overcome by using spore-forming probiotics.

“Non-spore forming bacteria are typically unable to survive harsh manufacturing processes,” he said. “Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086, or simply GBI-30, is a patented, spore-forming organism that can be found in more than 80 leading food, beverage and companion animal products throughout the world. It is highly stable and can remain viable through processing, shelf life and the low pH of stomach acid. Its efficacy is backed by 17 published studies and has an exceptional safety record with GRAS status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

The effectiveness of GBI-30 is linked to its naturally occurring layer of organic material — the spore — that protects the genetic core of the bacteria. Potential health benefits include supporting immune health and digestive health.

GBI-30 may be added to any dairy product with the exception of ultra-high temperature-processed shelf-stable beverages. This is because the potential lengthy shelf life in the ambient fluid matrix may cause the spore to germinate.

Feeding off of prebiotics

Since prebiotics are non-viable, stability is not a concern as it is with probiotics. Safe consumption levels, however, should always be a consideration.

“We offer a line of non-G.M.O. soluble corn and wheat fibers that are considered prebiotics,” Mr. Varde said. “They are known for their high dietary tolerance, which is up to 45 grams per day with minimal side effects. They also do not break down during processing.

“In dairy applications, soluble corn and wheat fibers can easily be used to boost fiber content. Because they are sugar free and impart minimal viscosity, they can be formulated in a wide range of products. We have customers currently using our prebiotic fibers in yogurts, drinkable dairy smoothies and yogurts, and even frozen desserts. In the latter application, these fibers help with minimizing ice crystal formation and reducing added sugars.”

In addition to possessing prebiotic activity, soluble chicory root fiber, which also may be referred to as inulin, serves many functions in dairy applications.

“Studies show it may increase calcium absorption,” Ms. Schulz said. “It is a soluble fiber and can be used in dairy applications for fiber enrichment, fat replacement, sugar replacement, and texture and mouthfeel enhancement.”

Sensus also manufactures chicory root fiber. Mr. Turowski said the ingredient lends a great deal of functionality and may improve taste and texture, particularly in dairy products.

“Inulin is most commonly used in dairy applications to improve the taste and texture of low-calorie products, where it can serve as a replacement for sugar and fat,” he said. It therefore assists with calorie reduction.

That’s what you find with Chobani Simply 100 Greek Yogurt, which relies on a combination of chicory root fiber, monk fruit extract and stevia leaf extract to keep calories at 100. The yogurt also contains three probiotic cultures: L. acidophilus, Bifidus and Lactobacillus casei.

Joe O’Neill, president and general manager, Beneo Inc., Morris Plains, N.J., said, “Chicory root-derived inulin acts perfectly as a fat replacer in low-fat dairy products, providing a creamy mouthfeel and body. This white, odorless, soluble powder has no off-taste and can stabilize water into a creamy structure. It helps to reduce the energy content while improving the body of low-fat products, delivering roundness and creaminess, as well as a better-balanced flavor.”

Polydextrose is another soluble prebiotic fiber.

“Due to its complex structure, polydextrose is unique in that it is slowly and incompletely fermented throughout the colon, which leads to many positive health benefits, including optimal pH within the colon, reduced carcinogenic compounds throughout the colon, improved bowel function and minimal gas production,” Ms. Steele said. “Polydextrose also has the added benefit of helping replace sugar and fat, while improving flavor, texture and mouthfeel in a wide variety of applications. It does this by providing bulk at only one calorie per gram.”

Lonza Inc., Allendale, N.J., offers an ingredient composed of larch arabinogalactan (LAG), a long, densely branched non-starch polysaccharide consisting of a galactan backbone, and galactose and arabinose side chains. The company extracts the prebiotic fiber from larch trees via steam heating followed by evaporation, with the resulting extract structurally unaltered, said Bryan Rodriguez, technical marketing and scientific affairs manager.

“This proprietary ingredient was formulated to address and support the immune system through a triple-action approach that addresses multiple pathways within the body,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Thanks to its unique structure, this prebiotic is not hydrolyzed by the low pH in the stomach or absorbed in the small intestine; therefore, it reaches the large intestine intact where it has the ability to optimize the immune system by utilizing direct and indirect modes of action.”

He said that according to research, LAG selectively calls upon both non-specific, cellular response, as well as adaptive immune response in healthy adults. Further, it also provides an immunomodulatory effect, meaning it may enhance the appropriate response to an antigen, as opposed to indiscriminately enhancing other arms of the immune system that would not be expected to respond. Indirectly, it enhances and supports the beneficial microflora populations within the large intestine as a fermentable substrate.

“Thanks to its highly branched structure, it is freely soluble, dissolving completely in hot or cold water,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “It is stable at a wide range of temperatures and pH, which provides for use in various applications.”

Processors who include probiotics and prebiotics in a formulation must remember that in order to make claims, clinical data and efficacy are necessary to effectively market the product. There are many options in the marketplace. Choose wisely.