April 18. 2024. 12:10

The Daily

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The evolution of European consumers’ opinions, trends, and behaviours is shaking up the probiotic market in the EU.

‘The evolution of European consumers’ opinions, trends, and behaviours shows a strong interest in overall health and well-being. It also highlights that consumers would like to be better informed on the labelling and in communications about probiotic food, and about probiotic microorganisms in food and food supplements’.

These were the main results of the online survey carried out to assess people’s understanding of the probiotic offer currently on the European market, and their use of probiotic foods and supplements in daily life. The survey was conducted by the agency 3 Gem in 8 European countries (Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden) on a total of 8000 consumers.

The key findings clearly show that:

Probiotics are popular. Even people who do not use or buy probiotics know the term (56% out of 8.000). Consumers who know what probiotic foods and supplements are, and who also consume them, mention that their main drive is their overall health and well-being.

Very often, the information for using probiotics comes from health professionals, which also explains why so many people are aware of this category but find no match when looking at product labels. Consumers use probiotics and are better informed in countries that have allowed the use of the term for a long time.

The majority of the panel of consumers do not feel well informed that a product contains probiotics (57% out of 8.000); when asked if they want to know more about the packaging and label, the percentage rises to 79% on average.

The survey confirmed the interest in probiotic food and food supplements in Europe. It appears that for the majority of consumers the answer to “Do you know what probiotics and probiotic foods are?” is “yes” (63%). Women and men seem to consume probiotics almost equally. On average the peak consumption is in the 25-44 age group.

There is quite a substantial amount of people who know the word ‘probiotic’, even though they say that they do not consume them. This is probably due to the large amount of information available on probiotics in online search engines on the web, mainly from commercial and media sources. However, these sites often fail to paint a complete picture, so consumers may miss relevant information.

It is not only “in some third countries” that the use of the term ‘probiotics’ may be regulated differently. Speaking at IPA Probiota World Congress in Barcelona on 8 February 2023, Rosanna Pecere, Executive Director of IPA Europe, presented an overview of the European market. Since 2018, some EU countries are progressively allowing the use of the term ‘probiotic’ as a ‘commercial practice’, while others are setting national conditions and guidance at the national level. This increased use of the term ‘probiotic’ is also reflected by the market evolution: during the period 2018-2021, the European market of probiotic food and food supplements shows a significant increase in sales of +9,08%. All the ‘probiotic’ products, from European countries and third countries, are in free circulation in the European single market.

In absence of a clear European framework, European countries are adopting national practices allowing the use of the term ‘probiotic’ on the label and communication, under conditions of use. France, DGCCRF Q&A published on January 2023 states some criteria of efficacy, the viability of the microorganism, accompanied by the use of a clear statement relating to the ‘balance of intestinal flora’. Like the DGCCRF Q&A, the Italian guidelines establish criteria for characterisation, effectiveness, and quantitative viability for probiotics microorganisms in food and food supplements, and the use of the wording for the products that meet these specific criteria. Also, in the Spanish Q&A the term ‘probiotic’ is used generally, and refers to bacterial species, bacterial strains, or live microorganism species in food and food supplements. Both Spain’s and Italy’s guidelines cover food and food supplement products containing probiotic micro-organisms. Other EU countries are also having national practices in the use of the term probiotic.

Therefore, it is not only “in some non-EU countries” that the use of the term ‘probiotics’ may be regulated differently, and that the different practices can be confusing for European consumers. In March 2023, during the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses (CCNFSDU 43) in Dusseldorf, there was support by several regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, the Near East, and Latin America for the proposal to work on harmonized probiotic guidelines. This work will take a long time, but it can be an essential part of the process of harmonising the probiotics framework, .but surprisingly the European Commission did not support the proposal.

‘E-commerce growth is driven by Europe’ by Lumina Intelligence, an insight service on the e-commerce retail channel for the probiotics market. The research, based on 25 countries around the world, shows a high increase in the probiotic supplements’ e-commerce market size, which was valued US$ 928 million in 2018 and reached US$ 1.7 billion in 2021 (+81%). Moreover, we observe that the e-com growth in 2021 for probiotic supplements is driven by Europe, with an increase of +20% in 2020 (versus +15% in America and APAC). Customer reviews grew by 2k% (or 510k ) with the growth peaking in H1 2021.

We can conclude that, the lack of agreed criteria and conditions of use to define the probiotic category in the EU expose the manufacturers to a situation of unfair competition and the different practices can create confusion for European consumers who are actively looking for these products. It is probably time to establish certain criteria within the EU and at the international level in order to improve consumer protection against misleading practices and avoid serious disruptions in the European market.