‘Retailers need to use their suppliers; they will soon discover those who are passionate about their products’

Toby Lewis, Managing Director of Probiotics International Ltd, tells us why it’s important for suppliers to engage with their retailers and share their knowledge

Protexin is a medium-sized, family company with a number of divisions. We started life 23 years ago in the agricultural industry as that was where probiotics had been identified as having a benefit. We then developed a veterinary health business in 1998 and also have an equine side to the business.

As evidence grew that probiotics could also benefit humans we created our rapidly growing human health division where traditionally, we were mainly manufacturing for other companies. It was 2008 when we really started to focus on the human health side. Up until that point, we had a fair amount of business overseas and we did a lot of manufacturing for other businesses but we started to do more research and thought we should utilise these skills by developing our own products which was how Bio-Kult and Lepicol were developed.

Things have changed so much over the last 20 years. There is now a real body of scientific research behind probiotics, and with that science and reassurance from a healthcare professional or trusted retailer, a consumer will try a probiotic and when they find it has helped them in some way word spreads even further, more consumers read the research more thoroughly and so over the past 20 years confidence in probiotics being beneficial has increased and is still increasing.

Every year there is more and more scientific evidence to show how probiotics can have a positive impact on a variety of different conditions in humans such as immunity, IBS, thrush, urinary tract infections, colic in children to name just a few. There is even research to show that probiotics could help with stress and sleep. At Protexin we invest heavily in our own research on our own strains to determine which strain will be most beneficial for a certain health condition. We then develop a product around that research. Nothing is brought to the market without strong scientific evidence that the product will work and that there is a consumer need for that particular product.

Probiotics have become a very important market for health store retailers. Healthy digestion is incredibly important area for any retailer, and since it is the digestive system that can affect so many other elements of the body probiotics should be a core part of any health store’s portfolio.

For retailers, it is extremely important to have a choice of products that the retailer is confident and comfortable with, that they have perhaps tried themselves or on a family member or friend, so that they can talk knowledgeably about the product to their customers. I would recommend that retailers use their suppliers and ask lots of questions to build up their knowledge and understand the specifics about particular products; not all probiotics are the same!

Ask the manufacturers of products they stock to ensure that they have all the scientific evidence available about their products. Retailers will soon discover the companies who are passionate about their products and understand them inside out.

Specifically with regard to probiotics, check that the company manufacturers its own strains so has exclusive research behind those strains which makes that product unique, rather than stocking a product which contains strains that are manufactured by one company and sold to a variety of other brands. Also ask about viability until the end of shelf life – will the same amount of bacteria be in the product that is stated on the packaging? Do the probiotics survive stomach acid?

Suppliers are there to help and the good ones actively want retailers to engage with them, they can provide so much to support retailers such as point of sale material and access to in-depth training.

I feel that the future is very positive for probiotics. Yes, we are hampered by health claims legislation but this has only made probiotic companies such as ourselves become even more passionate (if that is possible) about what we do. We will continuously strive to demonstrate to everyone the science behind our products.

Health store retailers are immensely important to us and I find it very sad when I hear of another retailer closing, but I am also overjoyed when I hear of someone else who is passionate about health opening a new one.  As a company we will always support independent health store businesses as much as we can, whether that is by developing brilliant products their customers will love, helping to educate their staff and customers or just by providing some point of sale to brighten up a window display. We want to do everything we can to ensure they have a positive future too.

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