FEATURE16 October 2017

Hard to swallow

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Asia Pacific Features Healthcare Impact

ASIA – In Asia, sales of dietary supplements in tablet form are hampered by cultural associations with sickness. This has consequences for the growing probiotic market, writes Bronwen Morgan

Hard to swallow

Asian families have long been familiar with probiotics – live bacteria and yeasts, often added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements to restore the natural balance of the gut. This is largely thanks to Yakult, a fermented milk product that originated in Japan and has been sold door-to-door across Asia for decades.

These door-to-door sales are carried out by ‘Yakult Ladies’, of which there are more than 80, 000 worldwide – including 40, 000 in Japan. Yakult Ladies were originally hired as a sales-force to convince sceptical consumers that bacteria wasn’t always harmful – and, in fact, could be healthy. These women are trusted by local people because they are recruited from the same regions, so can communicate easily with households – not only about the products, but about issues related to their communities.

Now, with the ongoing urbanisation of Asia – plus higher disposable incomes and heightened consumer interest in health products – sales of commercial probiotics has ...