According to the research firm Mintel, 83% of consumers know that probiotics are good for digestion, but 43% admit they don't really understand what they are. This doesn't seem to have harmed the bottom line, with global sales for products containing the gut-friendly bacteria at $14 billion and expected to double in the next four years, per data from Euromonitor.
But it has created some distractions. Last year, Dannon paid $35 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by consumers who challenged the company's health claims regarding probiotics. Dannon now refers its customers to new guidelines issued by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, which state that probiotics must be live, active cultures that have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they provide the benefits they claim.
Whether this will clear up any of the confusion remains to be seen.
“I've had people who asked me about probiotics, and in all honesty I couldn't tell you all of what they do,” admitted Mike Cronce, dairy manager at Pennington Quality Market in Pennington, N.J.