As soft drink sales continue to fall, increasing numbers of probiotic drinks are hitting the shelves.
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria which it is claimed help colonise our guts leading to improving a range of bodily functions from mood and stress levels, to weight and cravings for food.
Andrew Rush, the co-founder of “functional beverage” company Kreol, says it’s not enough for a drink to just quench your thirst anymore.
“People are looking for drinks with purpose, rather than you are thirsty and have a drink, they are looking for drinks that serve a purpose for your wellbeing,” he says.
Using vinegar to make sparkling
Rush runs Kreol with his sister-in-law Chloe producing probiotic and prebiotic drinks made using apple cider vinegar which they brew in small batches on a bio-dynamic farm on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
The pair had no experience in the beverages industry but after running cafes in Melbourne and “reading a couple of books on gut health” they spotted an opportunity.
After one year in business Kreol is now stocked in over 350 cafes and wholefood stores around Australia, New Zealand and Singapore with turnover last year of $400,000.
The pair say Kreol can be distinguished from the popular fermented drink kombucha as it does not contain caffeine and is not fermented from sugar.
“We are particularly focused on gut health with a unique offering,” says Andrew.
Kreol Sparkling targets an increasingly educated and wealthy consumer with the drinks selling for $4.90 a bottle.
“The younger generation are very savvy in the way they understand nutritional panels and ingredients,” says Chloe. “When we go to stores we frequently see the bottles on the shelf have been turned around so people can look at the back.”
The pair say they are in at an early stage of the market which they are tipping to continue to grow with a target of $1 million in sales this financial year.
“The whole space is growing dramatically and the bigger beverage providers are seeing what is happening and I have no doubt they will pull the trigger on a similar product,” says Andrew.
Water with benefits
Another drinks company jumping on the probiotic trend is Queensland-based start-up Perkii, which has developed probiotic water with assistance from scientists from the University of Queensland.
Perkii is made using a technology called ProGel which produces micron-sized gel particles to encapsulate ingredients providing protection for a large range of bioactive like probiotics.
Perkii launched last year and is sold in nearly 1000 stores around Australia including IGA and Woolworths Metro.
Chief executive Matthew Kowal says the technology masks the naturally bitter taste of the flat probiotic drink.
“People are now so busy, yet socially informed that they are looking for a healthy functional alternative to soft drinks or juice,” he says. “A drink like Perkii appeals to those that understand natural ingredients but also appreciate the power of science to deliver the best combination for their health.”
In its first year of operation Perkii recorded sales of around $30,000 a month but this financial year sales have already hit $80,000 a month, with Kowal aiming for $3 million in turnover this financial year.
Kowal says the market for probiotic drinks is growing and Perkii is looking at exporting to New Zealand, Hong Kong, China and the United States.
“It’s a bit of a worldwide trend, not just in Australia, people realising how the gut works and probiotics are such an important part of the balance,” he says. “We have a specific dose [of probiotics] and a real way of delivering a guaranteed dose.”
Kowal wants probiotic drinks to offer an alternative to people looking for a healthy beverage like a cold pressed juice or sparkling water.
“There is a conscious avoidance now of having too much soft drink. You see that in sales and you see that on shelves,” says Kowal.
No ‘fix all’
While there may be growing demand for probiotic drinks, Dr Evangeline Mantzioris, director of the Bachelor of Nutrition & Food Sciences at the University of South Australia, says there is nothing new about probiotics.
“The reality is we have always had fermented food in our diets, yoghurt is fermented, cheese is fermented, sauerkraut and alcohol,” she says. “Fermented foods in general are beneficial because they provide us with the bacteria we need inside our body but what you also need is to provide those bacteria with the food they need to survive.”
Mantzioris warns probiotic drinks are not a “fix all” for dietary issues.
“You need to back it up with your background diet,” she says. “That background diet is the Australian guide to healthy eating and people find that quite boring as it doesn’t make any great claims.”
Kreol’s website claims “Kreol drinks aid digestive function and help balance your gut microbiota. Energise, cleanse and detoxify your gut from the inside out.”
“To energise strictly means it provides you with kilojoules which I’m sure it does; cleansing, well the liver does a good job of cleansing; and detoxify, I like to say if you need a detox diet you need a liver transplant,” says Mantzioris.
Perkii’s website claims its drink contains “probiotics, the good bacteria”, which it describes as “like nature’s own mini-superheroes fighting the good fight inside our insides”.
“What is said about probiotics is correct,” says Mantzioris. “Whether they have proof that their drink actually gets probiotics to your gut is another issue. It is not going to do anybody any harm drinking it, but it might not do them any good if they don’t back it up with their diet.”