Digest This: Marketers Are Jumping On The Probiotics Bandwagon

When did Americans become so irregular? Following the lead of Dannon Co.'s $100 million Activia yogurt rollout, several marketers have jumped on the probiotics bandwagon with products that claim to keep the human gut in working order.

The probiotic trend extends beyond the refrigerated dairy case: So far this year, marketers have introduced 71 new non-yogurt-based probiotic products that offer to aid in digestion and maintain intestinal health, according to Datamonitor's Productscan Online. Last year, a total of 113 new non-yogurt-based probiotic products were introduced over 12 months. Four years ago, that number was just 39.

"It's a trend we're seeing everywhere," says Productscan Director Tom Vierhile. "We've even seen probiotics in a German salami."

Dairy marketers are trying to catch up to Dannon's lead. In June, Kraft Foods will roll out in the U.S. LiveActive probiotic cheese cubes and cheese sticks, which claim to balance naturally occurring gut flora and aid in digestion. It recently introduced cottage cheese enhanced with prebiotic fiber under the Breakstone and Knudsen brands, with labels that promise "For Digestive Health."

Dean Foods Co. recently started selling probiotic cottage cheese in the upper Midwest under its three flagship brands: Dean's, Country Fresh and Land O'Lakes. Yoplait markets Yo-Plus dairy drink with probiotics. And Dannon is expanding its probiotics usage to Danimals drinkable yogurts and yogurt cups.

'Smores, anyone? Other probiotic products run the spectrum from cereal to marshmallows. According to Productscan, new probiotic brands include:

  • Hello Beauty Oligo Collagen Marshmallow containing probiotics, marketed in the U.S. by Japan's EIWA Confectionery Co. These come in grapefruit and fresh yogurt flavors.
  • Attune Yogurt & Granola Bars, which claim to have "more than five times the beneficial probiotics found in yogurt," and Attune Chocolate Wellness Bars that say they contain "more than five times the live active cultures in yogurt, with less sugar." These come via San Franscisco-based Attune Foods.
  • Kashi Co. is out with a new Vive Probiotic Digestive Wellness Cereal, which it says is the only shelf-stable probiotic food on the market.
  • Belgo & Bellas markets YogActive Probiotic Cereal in Yogurt and Strawberry, Yogurt and Blueberry, and Yogurt and Kiwi flavors.

But do consumers even know what probiotic means? Probiotics are live, "friendly" bacteria cultures acidophilus and bifidus. Phil Lempert, the guru at supermarketguru.com, points out that probiotic literally means "for life." Nutritionists say probiotics aid in digestion and fend off gastrointestinal and vaginal infections, among other dastardly things, by balancing the flora that naturally occur in the human gut. According to pdrhealth.com, probiotics stimulate beneficial bacteria in the colon.

According to a recent survey by Kellogg Co. and Opinion Research Corp., consumers are aware of the importance of digestive health, but they underestimate how much fiber they need each day. And three years ago, a Datamonitor survey found that more people were familiar with the term "evening primrose" than were aware of "probiotic." That's likely to change now that marketers are on to the trend.