Prebiotics to prosper in Europe: researchers

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Prebiotics Probiotic

Many consumers remain confused about just what prebiotics are and what they do, but they are responding to the general gut health messaging surrounding various prebiotic forms, and seeking prebiotic products, according to Frost and Sullivan.

In some cases consumers may not know the difference between prebiotics and probiotics and may purchase one rather than the other, but they are buying into the health messaging, even if much of it is coming from the more market visible probiotics camp.

Frost put the European market for prebiotics used in foods and beverage at €295.5 million in 2008, representing nearly 92,000 tonnes. By 2015 that figure will surge to €767m, or 205,000 tonnes – a compound annual growth rate of 14 per cent.

Frost analyst, Dr Deborah Cross, said consumers still had a lot to learn about prebiotics and probiotics but company marketing initiatives focused on health and functionality were providing a halo that attracted consumers seeking better digestive health and other benefits.

Prebiotic premiums

Not only were they seeking them out, they were willing to pay a premium for them.

“Premiums are involved but there are levels of premium and it seems consumers are willing to pay the premiums typically attached to these products. There are an increasing number of people aware of probiotics and prebiotics have benefited from this,”​ she told this morning.

"Consumers are currently more active in active preventive health management, rather than more expensive treatment of health complaints. This is especially the case in the light of the current economic climate - as long as consumers can clearly perceive a health benefit from these products, they are still willing to pay the premium price. In the majority of cases, consumers are more interested in health management rather than economic cost."

She said the prebiotics market had a built-in recession-proof valve in that, at least in the case of inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, about 50 per cent of the time the ingredients were used not just for their prebiotic potential but their texture and other functional properties.

Prebiotics are increasingly being incorporated into products like yoghurts along with probiotics,​Dr Cross said. However she noted that did not necessarily make them symbiotic, where the health benefit conferred was greater than the sum of its parts.

New forms, dosage, marketing

Dr Cross said that while the prebiotic supply market is dominated by inulin, and fructo-oligosaccharides, newer forms such as lactose derivatives and resistant starches were gaining market share and winning food and drink manufacturer acceptance.

“But the market , especially in Europe, is being held back somewhat by the lack of clear guides on effective doses,”​ she said. “The situation is much clearer in the US where recommended doses are in place.”

The imposition of European Union nutrition and health claims regulations should help clarify the situation, she said, and remained optimistic that the science backing prebiotics was robust enough to meet the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) exacting standards.

“The health claims regulations should be a good thing,”​ she observed. “While it is difficult to second guess EFSA, many probiotic products have very strong science so there should be few problems – at least for some of them. It’s a step in the right direction and will add to consumer confidence in these products.”

In addition to gut health and immunity benefits, emerging clinical data suggested prebiotics could have benefits in the areas of cancer prevention, improved mineral absorption, weight management and satiety.

Dr Cross recommended ingredient suppliers team up with food manufacturers to develop products under joint venture arrangements.

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