Sunday, July 3, 2011


The terms Probiotics and Prebiotics cause lot of confusion amongst the minds of ordinary consumers and with the recent stand taken by the EU authorities not to allow health claims for these products, the industry is also affected to some extent due to consumer doubts about the effectiveness of these food ingredients. Probiotic foods had a headway compared to prebiotics because consumers have been used to consuming them expecting advantages in protecting gut health. However scientific findings about the beneficial effects of prebiotics emerged relatively recently and there are some controversies surrounding these findings. While claims regarding the effect of consuming prebiotic fibers on cholesterol reduction and cardiac protection are more or less established, that these fibers can also act in the small intestine to generate beneficial chemicals like butyrates that protects against cancer is some what debatable. All said and done whether health authorities admit or not consumers seem to have adopted prebiotics in a big way as reflected by 20% plus annual growth the industry is clocking currently.

End use aside, the big three – inulin, oligofructoseand ploydextrose – are all forecast for growth by Euromonitor International in pure volume terms. It's a minor conundrum but its answer may lie in the fact that many prebiotic ingredients are dual purpose – sold as much for their healthy bacteria-building potential as their starch and sugar replacement ability. Or to benefit gut health as fibres. Or as texturants. Ewa Hudson, the researcher's head of global health and wellness research said global inulin volumes would double from 100,000 tonnes in 2009 to 200,000 tonnes in 2014. In the same period oligofructose would grow from 200,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes and polydextrose would show steadier growth from 80,000 tonnes to 85,000 tonnes. In Europe alone, Frost & Sullivan says prebiotic ingredients used exclusively in foods and beverages, not supplements, would surge from €295.5m in 2008 to to €767m in 2014, or 205,000 tonnes – a compound annual growth rate of 14%. "Prebiotics may not have the consumer recognition and appeal as probiotics, but in a way they are getting a probiotic boost because companies like Danone are adding them to products such as infant formulas,"Hudson said.

But these forecasts were made before the severity of the European Food Safety Authority's rulings became apparent and may therefore be in need of some revision given the agency is yet approve a single purely pre- or probiotic claim to date.

It is amazing that in countries like China, Indonesia, India etc there are hundreds of launches of new products with claims of prebiotic advantages and even in Europe and the US the growth of this sector continues unabated. What is of concern is the claims by some scientific groups that over consumption of prebiotics like fibers can be dangerous though there are not many takers for this line of thinking. The developments in the prebiotic food area throws up an interesting fact that consumers can take their own view irrespective of what governments say when it comes to health claims. In contrast consumer community expects governments to guide them on safety aspects of foods with the latter having the necessary power and wherewithal to haul up manufacturers and retailers peddling foods with doubtful safety credentials.

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