Third-party scientific and educational information; an emerging need for the industry of probioticsby Martin Macouzet, Ph. D. on 10/29/12
The fact that communicating health benefits is critical for developing the probiotic foods market has created a sort of panic in companies that have limited means of obtaining approval for health claims or otherwise conveying the desired message to the targeted consumers. This has spurred the investigation of new avenues of communication.
A health claim is little more than a stiff, consumer-unfriendly sentence that contributes very little to consumer education. Probiotics industry associations have therefore attempted to pass the pertinent information on to consumers through websites of their own creation. The neutrality of the information thus offered is obviously questionable, as is the validity of the strategy. To be acceptable, the information must come from a truly third-party organization, which should be an independent reputable institution devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.
It has been shown that consumer demand for functional foods reacts positively to health-related information. If the truth be known, health-related articles cause the demand function to shift to the right, reflecting the will of consumers to purchase more of the product at any reasonable price. In fact, articles that popularize probiotics play essentially the same role as conventional advertising. Interestingly, this approach is not only less restrictive than advertisement, but the rate of decay of the consumer response is not rapid.
The interested industry can thus ask such a third-party institution to conduct an independent search and analysis of the existing information on subjects such as probiotic strain properties, biochemical mechanisms of action or clinical studies among others. The sponsor may specify the target population segment in order to adjust the level of the information retrieved, but regardless of what is paid for the service, the sponsor cannot influence or alter the content of the generated document. For additional transparency, the initial agreement should indicate that the report shall be published by the third party organization or submitted for publication in a journal or newspaper, regardless of the results.
Would the probiotics industry adapt to this new reality? That is uncertain; however, it is unlikely that consumers will wait long before turning their backs to companies sticking to the old misleading practices. Therefore, insisting on the publication of questionable health related information mounted by the company’s own marketing or technical staff is ill advised.
Macouzet, M. 2012. Alternatives for communicating the health benefits of probiotics. Probiotic Intelligentsia 1(2):15-27