One of the world’s leading probiotics specialists says consumers are interested in probiotic cheese products but cheese manufacturers and probiotic suppliers need to get their scientific house in order and clarify their marketing messages.
Responding to Kraft statements that the cheese products in its two-year-old LiveActive digestive health range had been a disappointment, probiotics pioneer Dr Gregor Reid, said LiveActive was suffering because it had failed to conduct product-specific clinical trials and not been clear about the range’s health benefits.
Other probiotic cheeses have also failed to impress, according to market analyst, Euromonitor.
Dr Reid has spent more than 20 years researching probiotic strains and among other roles, is the director of the Canadian Research and Development Centre for Probiotics. He went as far as to say the LiveActive cheese products shouldn’t be called probiotics because they haven’t been backed by clinical trials.
He compared this with Danone’s highly successful probiotic yogurt and yogurt drinks and said, contrary to reports from some market analysts, that the problem lay in science and communication rather than any particular logic disconnect in the minds of consumers about probiotics and cheese.
“The problem with this product is that it hasn’t been tested and it is being marketed as benefiting digestive health – but what is that? Is it too general?” he questioned.
“If you look at Danone with Activia and DanActive the science is in place with those products and the benefits are clear.”
Word gets out
Dr Reid said it was a shame companies were choosing to go to market with products before the science had been completed because it only made question marks in consumer minds grow larger or turn them away from the category when products failed to deliver efficacy.
“News gets out about good products,” he said. “Yes Danone had a huge marketing budget but smaller companies can take heart in the fact that good products will gain an audience, especially as something like 75 per cent of the population have been shown to be swayed by health professionals.”
Science wins out
“LiveActive is, in my view, an excellent product. But Kraft need to tell its story better and they need to tell it with science. Science will win out. If was Kraft’s consultant I would have no hesitation in telling them they need to get those clinicals done before it is too late.”
LiveActive cheeses sell at a premium over regular varieties and come in cream cheese, natural, cheese stick and cube versions and some of them also contain prebiotics. The LiveActive range also includes prebiotic cereals, healthy bars and powdered drinks and employs probiotic strains from Swedish supplier, Probi.
Euromonitor figures show fortified cheeses account for only about one percent of the $100bn global cheese market, with probiotic versions faring very poorly.
“Sadly, consumer response to these exciting launches has been lukewarm at best, and none have yet achieved mass-market success,” said Euromonitor analyst Ewa Hudson. “The main reason for probiotic cheese's failure to take off is that, unlike yogurt, it is not really regarded as a healthy food.”
She added: “It will never match the success of probiotic yogurt, which is rapidly becoming somewhat of a new industry standard.”