Too many producers are falsely labelling their products as probiotic and could present a stumbling block to the sector's expansion, says the marketing head of leading innovator Valio at Drinktec 2005.
There needs to be more self-regulation in the industry so that the term probiotic is not used to promote so many products, said Kaarle Leporanta, responsible for marketing at Finland's Valio firm.
For any product claiming to contain probiotic bacteria, "there have to be strain-specific studies on its health benefits," said Leporanta during a talk on the growing market for probiotic juices at this year's Drinktec expo.
Leporanta said a probiotic product should show scientific proof for its claims, must be clearly labelled as such for consumers and must meet health claim criteria in the relevant state.
At the moment, "even if a product doesn't meet these criteria it may still be called probiotic on the market," said Leporanta. "This is a difficult task for the industry. If I was the European Union, I would do something to stop this."
The first step in sorting out the situation will be a unified health claims system across the European Union, currently under development, as opposed to individual rules for different member states.
Leporanta's comments came as he told the audience that probiotic juices now offered significant opportunities for new product development for both dairy and beverage firms.
Valio, one of the first to develop a probiotic bacterial strain and use it in dairy product formulations, launched its first probiotic juice in 1997.
Ironically, Leporanta said the firm was spurred on by what he called increasing competition from "imitation" probiotic products in the dairy sector.
Now, Valio's probiotic juice brand, Gefilus, is Finland's juice market leader with a 32 per cent market share - more than twice that of PepsiCo's Tropicana juice brand. Gefilus has also managed to rise above its competitors despite being around 40 per cent more expensive than standard chilled juice.
And Norway's leading dairy, Tine, has just used its licence for Valio's probiotic strain, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, to launch its own juice under the Biola brand. Like Gefilus, it will carry a health claim and recommend two glasses per day for an effective daily dose.
Others may well follow with Valio having licenced its probiotic strain to 17 companies worldwide.
However, some markets may take longer to develop a taste for probiotics. In the UK, reports suggest that Skane dairy's probiotic juice ProViva has not had the same success as on its home market in Sweden.
Leporanta said that Scandinavian consumers appeared to have a better understanding of the probiotic concept.