Most consumers know little to nothing about the EU health claim system, the European Food Safety Authority nor why a blanket ban has been imposed on probiotic marketing across the bloc, a functional food marketing expert told a conference this morning.
But they do become aware of the verdicts and this leads to increased wariness toward health claims, a reality that while challenging, does in fact present probiotic players with opportunities to recast their ‘stories’, said Peter Wennstrom, the president and founder of the Healthy Marketing Team.
“The result of EFSA is increased scepticism,” Wennstrom said, “but probiotic companies need to think about the full story of probiotics and how that can be told.”
“Consumers are not down into EFSA details."
“They need to work on the concept of live bacteria. It’s a bigger story. Probiotics for many consumers are not well understood but they are interested in wellness products and natural products and probiotics need to tap into that.”
“There is a paralysis in clinical development in many probiotic companies.”
Earlier Valio’s Ross Crittenden, the chair of the Global Alliance for Probiotics (GAP) that counts Danone and Yakult as members, highlighted the sector’s frustration with the new EU landscape, and reiterated calls for EFSA to grant pre-health claim submission meetings with applicants if any entente between the commercial and scientific communities and regulators could be reached.
He said the group's work into probiotic strain clusters and a systematic review of respiratory tract infection outcomes was throwing up much strong data, and could be of great interest to EFSA’s health claims unit.
But Crittenden lamented: “The only way to get [EFSA health claim panel] feedback is to submit a dossier.”
He noted the R&D nutrition team at Valio had been cut from 25 to 3 people as a result of the innovation-clamping new laws.
“There is a paralysis in clinical development in many probiotic companies,” he observed.
The claims crisis was however forcing probiotic competitors, “to work more closely than ever before” to try and work a resolution to the claims blockade.
The picture was brighter globally, confirmed Ewa Hudson of market analyst, Euromonitor International, who forecast growth from €22bn last year to €33.5bn in 2017, with the BRIC countries and North America leading the way.
While Danone’s marquee probiotic yoghurt Activia might be stalling or even sliding in key European markets – the overall European sector is set to dip 2.5% in the next five years – global sales for the probiotic mega-brand are on the rise and worth about €4.2bn.
She said brand extensions like juice infusions were proving popular in countries like Brazil and Spain.