Return to Blog November 27, 2023

Probiotic Supplementation: The Right Strain Matters


Food and beverage manufacturers aren’t phased by fast-changing consumer demand. Over the past five years, the functional foods category has grown substantially faster than the broader market.

One of the key drivers of the segment has been probiotics – and that trend is expected to accelerate.

As the marketplace gets increasingly competitive, manufacturers are putting a renewed focus on quality and education to ensure consumers understand the benefits of probiotics and which strains are suited to their needs.

Snapshot: The Probiotics Market

The US probiotics market had been relatively stagnant until 20 years ago. Stringent regulations on introducing probiotics in many nutraceuticals and functional foods inhibited innovation, limiting the range of product offerings available.

It took a notable shift in consumer demand to accelerate product development, aided by loosened regulations at the federal level. More than 200 new probiotic-based products went to market in 2016, with line extensions focusing on strains scientifically proven to support age-related or ailment-specific health issues.

The Covid pandemic added further impetus for health-focused products made more accessible by consumer-side federal stimulus. By May 2020, the number of US citizens taking probiotics increased 66% compared to the previous six months.

Related: Food Regulations in Europe vs. the US

Meeting Customers Where They Are

Manufacturers successfully met the dramatic increase in demand thanks to technological investments that have made shelf-stable, human-grade probiotics resilient to most packing, transportation and storage conditions.

Another important shift has been increased retail sales channels, with more than 30% of probiotics now sold in supermarkets each year. That has expanded the visibility and accessibility of core products like powders and tablets and innovative new probiotic products like teas and flavored drinks.

From Source to Store Shelf

We work with suppliers and manufacturers to deliver probiotics with a high survival rate. Much of the market growth for probiotics is attributable to innovative probiotic delivery systems, including using polymers and enzymes to rates during production, storage, processing and shipping.

Why Probiotic Strains Are Key Differentiators

The ingredients in probiotics are alive – and manufacturers need to keep them that way for the products to be effective for consumers. All probiotics are categorized based on the type of probiotic strain included in the product. Most commercially available probiotics share widespread benefits, including increased resistance to disease and improved gut health. Certain probiotic strains are engineered to address more specific conditions, although dosage, efficacy and other measures of health benefits are subject to ongoing research.

Common Probiotic Strains

The two most common types of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both varieties have been shown to improve immune system health and provide other benefits including reducing cavities and urinary tract infections.

Most probiotic supplementation is focused on improving overall gut health. Bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium improve nutrient absorption and reduce symptoms of diarrhea and constipation, among other benefits.

Bifidobacterium are very common in the environment and are found naturally in the human gut. Manufacturers rely on this bacteria to provide an accessible and natural way to improve gut health, reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms and improve lipid levels.

Common species of Bifidobacterium found in consumer products include:

  • B. adolescentis
  • B. animalis
  • B. bifidum
  • B. breve
  • B. longum

Lactobacilli are a lactic acid-producing bacterium that has been used in food production and processing for centuries. There is substantial evidence that lactic acid production has an antibiotic impact that can reduce bacteria-related diarrhea and gas in the gut and reduce the frequency of vaginal infections.

The most prevalent species of Lactobacilli include:

  • L. acidophilus
  • L. plantarum
  • L. rhamnosus
  • L. reuteri
  • L. casei
  • L. delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus
  • L. gasseri
  • L. fermentum
  • L. johnsonii
  • L. paracasei
  • L. salivarius

What Are CFUs in Probiotics?

CFU stands for “colony forming unit,” or the number of bacteria that can multiply to form a colony. The term is based on the use of bacteria in a laboratory setting and is used to standardize testing in microbiology. CFUs are typically measured in the billions – most adult probiotic supplements are between 5-25 billion.

More CFUs aren’t always better. Manufacturers are working to educate consumers on choosing the right species and CFU to meet their health goals. High dosages of 50 billion CFUs or more can do more harm than good in new users, resulting in severe diarrhea, cramping and other forms of dietary distress.  

Other factors, such as the age, storage environment, and preparation variables for cooked or heated products also impact the overall effectiveness of all prebiotics and probiotics.

Investing in Health-First Functional Foods

Tilley Distribution works with suppliers and manufacturers to maintain exceptional quality standards at every step in the supply chain. Our global distribution network has closed sourcing gaps and raised storage standards for specialty ingredients like probiotics. See what our team can do for your organization; speak with a Tilley representative today to get started.