Key Interview: Innovation with Probiotics for Chr. Hansen


03 Apr 17 --- This week, NutritionInsight caught up with Christian Barker, the Executive Vice President of Health & Nutrition at Chr. Hansen. As the world’s largest developer and manufacturer of solutions based on beneficial bacteria, we discuss everything from probiotics for infant and animal nutrition, all the way to innovating bacteria for pharmaceutical purposes.

Growth for the Probiotic Sector

At 140 years old, Chr. Hansen is a real global player in the food industry. Based in Denmark, the company as a whole racked up revenues of around 950 million euros last year alone.

“We have had organic sustained growth for many years now in the 8 to 10% range, and we expect to continue growth in that ballpark as we look ahead,” Barker tells us.

The biggest business area for Chr. Hansen is cultures and enzymes for food production, but Barker explains how innovations and potential in the Health and Nutrition part of the company also look set to contribute nicely to the company’soverall growth.

“The dietary supplements and probiotics sector is a high growth market,” Barker says.

“Most sources you look at say it is growing at 7 to 9% globally, but it’s growing even faster  in some parts of the world, and probiotics is now one of the biggest dietary supplement categories in some markets.”

He explains that growth is a result of big players building brands that drive the category, but also mentions how the continued scientific insights about what bacteria can do for health is also reaching more consumers than ever.

“This is making its way into TV programs, newspaper articles and social media, and has trickled down into general consumer awareness,” Barker said.

“There have been many breakthroughs now in science that demonstrate the importance of beneficial bacteria in maintaining good health or good productivity, whether its in humans, livestock productions or agriculture,” he adds.

As providers of microbial solutions based on bacteria and probiotics, the consumer awareness around probiotics is a very positive thing for Chr. Hansen. Combined with the general industry trend of more natural products, the company has found itself in sweet spot that only looks set to get sweeter.

“There is also a clear desire for clean label and for consumers to feel like they know what they’re eating in their foods and supplements.”

“Consumers want natural solutions where they get the artificial elements out - whether that is antibiotics in meat, synthetic colors in foods, or chemical preservatives,” Barker explains.

Luckily for Chr. Hansen, they’ve also got this area well covered.

“Our saying is “nature’s no 1” - the nature part speaks to the fact that we are using natures own solutions in the form of bacteria, as well as natural colors to help improve food, health and productivity,” Barker tells NutritionInsight.

“The number 1 part is not about being the biggest, because we are really a niche player, but it is about ensuring that we are second to none in terms of the quality of the solutions that we develop and the customers that we serve”, he adds.

Disrupting the Infant Nutrition Market

A recent area of focus for Chr. Hansen has been infant nutrition.

“We see opportunities in building probiotics usage for infants by adding them to infant formula,” explains Barker - however, the innovation doesn’t stop there.

“We have also have developed formats such as probiotic oil drops which parents can add to the food of their children to increase their digestive health and well being,” he adds.

“The oil drops suspend live bacteria in a liquid formulation that is very well suited for giving to infants, and we’ve invested a lot in very high quality production set up and production standards, which means we can manufacture it consistently.”

Barker explains that the probiotics  can also be combined with other products such as omega 3, to offer combination products to its customers.

Comparing the innovation to previous application methods, Barker says, “The format is very well suited for giving to an infant.”

“The classic delivery format for probiotics would be in a stick pack, or maybe a capsule, but what we have done in collaboration with our strategic customers, is to basically work out a range of new formats to deliver the probiotics.”

He adds that the infant market is a great opportunity for the company, saying, “Parents are focused on the wellbeing of their infants and their digestion, and in some cases they maybe concerned about colic.”

Probiotics Over Antibiotics in Animal Nutrition

Another area of focus for the company is animal nutrition.

“There’s a big a trend in many parts of the world where producers want to curb or eliminate the usage of antibiotic growth promoters, so we provide a natural solution that can be part of the solution when farmers decide to reduce to reliance on the antibiotic growth promoters,” Barker explains.

He adds that the company is currently working to develop next generation probiotics that they will launch as an animal health product in the US later this year.

“A lot of consumers prefer to consume antibiotic free meat, so when farmers decide they want to use less antibiotic growth promoters, or entirely eliminate them, they look for natural alternatives that can deliver some of the same benefits - and probiotics can be one element of such a solution,” Barker states.

He continues, “In most parts of the world we see both consumers and retailers, and in some cases even regulators, having a clear desire to curb the usage of antibiotic growth promoters in livestock, and we think that this macro trend will continue to drive growth for natural solutions.”

He adds, “It’s a market where we expect robust growth as we look ahead.”

Breaking into Therapeutic Health

Infant and animal nutrition aren’t the only focuses for Chr. Hansen when it comes to innovating with probiotics. The company is also looking to enter the therapeutic space, combining its probiotic knowledge with science to provide solutions that could support gastrointestinal health, intestinal health and metabolic disorders, describing them as “areas of high interest to us and our partners.”

“In addition to dietary supplements, we’re also partnering with biotech players looking to develop therapeutic solutions with some beneficial bacteria, and we see quite a lot of interest in new types of strains that are very oxygen sensitive and in many cases more challenging to produce than traditional probiotics,” Barker explains.

“We have a lot of collaborative projects around developing new formats,” he continues.

“Already today, we have in our portfolio what we think are the best strains in the world, but we are also developing new strains and conducting clinical research with this in mind.”

“We have a targeted development approach where we have consumer needs in mind and then combine that with clinical research that looks into the mechanism of action of the probiotic strains.”

“Then we select the most promising ones from our library of thousands of strains.”

“So we have invested in the stretching our competences into this area, and have successfully up scaled the first of these kinds of bacteria.”

Overall, it seems the company is not leaving many stones unturned in its approach to probiotic innovation, and the focus on probiotic strain development may also pave the way to greater innovation across all of Chr. Hansen’s focus areas.

“We see opportunities in strain development, both within dietary supplements where we drive development in house and also therapeutic solutions where we work together with biotech players,” Barker concludes.

By Hannah Gardiner

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