‘Not just a yogurt drink’: Korea’s hy Co diversifies into probiotic food and beverages

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

hy Co., formerly known as Korea Yakult, is diversifying into the probiotic food, drinks, and supplements sectors, on top of fermented milk. Getty Images
hy Co., formerly known as Korea Yakult, is diversifying into the probiotic food, drinks, and supplements sectors, on top of fermented milk. Getty Images

Related tags hy co. Probiotics

Korea’s hy Co, previously known as Korea Yakult, is expanding its probiotic business categories to include probiotic food, drinks, supplements, on top of its existing focus in functional fermented milk products.

Founded in 1969, the company, known for its fermented milk drink, changed its name to hy last March.  

Along with the change, the company also ventured into the probiotic ingredient business last year, selling its probiotic ingredient trademark Fatslim for weight management within South Korea and also its skincare probiotic ingredient into the US.

Fatslim is a mixture of Lactobacillus curvatus​ HY7601 and Lactobacillus plantarum ​KY1032. The skincare ingredient, on the other hand, trademarked hyLabs SkinCare, contains Lactobacillus plantarum​ HY7714.

Launching new products almost every month in the highly competitive South Korean probiotic market, the company is also developing products for a wider variety of health needs, such as weight management and skin hydration.

A such example is US firm LivePure, which launched mie collagen+probiotics – a sachet product containing Lactobacillus plantarum​ HY7714 and six other strains – in July 2021.

It is meant for skin hydration and preventing skin damage arising from UV exposure. Aside from probiotics, the product also contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and biotin.

The six other strains used are Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, ​and streptococcus thermophilus.

Findings published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology​ showed that Lactobacillus plantarum​ HY7714 could protect against skin ageing in a 12-week randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

As for Fatslim, the ingredient is used in the company’s finished consumer product Look Kill Fat.

The product is a combination of a liquid drink and capsules containing probiotics launched in April 2020.

The company selects the health areas to focus on based on market analysis of consumer needs, as well as the strains available in its probiotic library, Eunji Cho from hy Co’s R&BD Department told NutraIngredients-Asia.

For instance, the company has been studying probiotics strains for immune health since the onset of COVID-19. One such strain that it is studying at the moment is Lactobacillus paracasei​ 7717 but it is not yet commercialised.

As part of its new product development plan, Cho said the company would explore strains that played a role via the gut-brain axis.

The firm has also combined natural extracts such as fermented red ginseng and fermented deer antlers with its probiotic products. For example, its new products for this month include velvet antlers fermented by Lactobacillus curvatus​ HY7602. Through the fermentation, the active component of velvet antlers – ganglioside – is increased.

Move into pharmabiotics

A trend among Korean probiotics companies, hy Co is also venturing into the area of pharmabiotics, where live microbes are used on patients to treat a disease.

At this stage, the company has identified obesity and sarcopenia as two areas of interest for its pharmabiotics research.

“Obesity is a crucial health problem worldwide and so we consider it as a disease, and we try to develop a pharmabiotic for it.

“This is because the existing drugs could produce side effects, and so, we want to reduce the side effects of these weight loss medications and make more effective products through the administration of pharmabiotics,”​ said Jung Seung Eun, researcher at hy who was behind the development of Fatslim.

For example, the side effects of the injectable drug for obese children, Saxenda, include nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, low blood sugar etc.

The research will be built upon existing knowledge of Fatslim.

Fatslim, currently marketed as a probiotic product as a dietary supplement, has been shown to regulate hormones and modulate the microbiome environment in 11 published papers. Five of which are clinical trials and the most recent one was published in Nutrients.

The ingredient trademarked FatSlim is also a finalist​ of the Ingredient of the Year: Weight Management of this year’s NutraIngredients-Asia Awards.

Jung said that the firm was still in the early stages in the development of pharmabiotics. The possibilities include developing pharmabiotics using Fatslim at higher dose, explore other strains, or add additional strains to Fatslim.  

Another potential pharmabiotic is developing products for increasing muscle strength which could address sarcopenia in seniors.

The company is studying L. plantarum​ HY 7715, which is currently used as a sports nutrition probiotic, for this purpose.

Unlike other companies, the firm is not focusing on hypertension, high blood glucose and other chronic diseases for its pharmabiotic business.

Jung explained that this was because there were already existing available drugs that could effectively treat these diseases.

To study and develop pharmabiotics, the company would be utilising the gut-on-a-chip platform – which could analyse the functions of the probiotic strains, as well as the optimal living conditions for the probiotics to thrive.

While this is an existing technology, the company has modified the technology with Sogang university three years ago to suit its use.

Another technology that the company is exploring is to remove the gut microbiome from mouse and replace it with human microbiome.

Other South Korean companies intending to develop pharmabiotics include Navipharm​ and Bifido INC.

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