Headed by director Komal Mistry-Mehta, the unit is based in Singapore, which was chosen for its reputation as a regional business hub.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, she said: "If we look at the global market for health and wellness nutrition — which encompasses sports nutrition, weight management, and the broader health foods and dietary supplements sector — it's worth about $200bn.
"Furthermore, in Asia, there's a growing focus on promoting active lifestyles. We can see that in countries like Singapore and China, where the government has national programmes in place to help the general public eat better and exercise.
"As a business unit, we're looking at how best to serve the nutritional needs of these consumers."
She added that while the sports nutrition segment had traditionally been dominated by weightlifters, bodybuilders and professional athletes, the growing proportion of physically active consumers has pushed the category further into the mainstream.
This has in turn opened up opportunities for new product development and novel innovations for different demographics, including teenagers, men, women, and senior consumers.
In this regard, NZMP is confident it is well placed to meet the needs and demands of consumers in APAC.
Mistry-Mehta said: "We already have a protein portfolio, with probiotics being another extension for us. We've been in the paediatric business a long time, but we are also aware of the fact that close to two billion people around the world are obese."
She further revealed that globally, anxiety and stress were among consumers' top health concerns, along with tiredness and fatigue.
Interestingly, one of the most common ways they deal with these concerns is through exercise, she said, and that NZMP's solution was to support them before, during and after their workouts.
"At the same time, more consumers are not only choosing to maintain an active lifestyle, but are also looking for products to support gut health," she added.
"In addition, more manufacturers want to fortify their products to give them functional benefits, so furthering our probiotic research and setting up this business unit was a natural step for us."
Exercise and the gut
Connecting gut health to sports nutrition is not new for NZMP, which recently launched two probiotic ingredients in the US sports nutrition market.
The ingredients feature two of the company's proprietary probiotic strains, Bifidobacterium animalis sub-species lactis HN019 (BifidoB 019) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 (LactoB 001), which are said to improve digestive health, gut comfort. and immunity.
While both strains have been used in products for maternal and infant health, a growing body of clinical evidence has found uses for them in sports nutrition.
Senior research scientist and nutrition programme manager at NZMP, Dr James Dekker, told NutraIngredients-Asia: "We'd been working on these strains for almost 20 years now, so they're very well-established — there are well over 100 publications on each of them, so we understand them very well.
"Each strain has its own distinctive health benefits, but we found both had an immunity-enhancing effect and anti-pathogenic mechanisms.
"We've found good evidence that BifidoB 019 can protect against colds, flu and respiratory tract infection in infants and post-natal depression in mothers, as well as help to alleviate constipation and the related symptoms of bloating and pain.
"LactoB 001, on the other hand, has been found to support metabolic health and lower diabetes, and also work through the gut-brain axis to improve mood and reduce anxiety."
He added that NZMP intended to conduct more studies on these strains, particularly in Asia.
"We've already done studies on infants, and we are keen to work with customers who want to replicate similar health benefits in adults. Respiratory health is particularly important for sportspeople, especially since they travel and may catch a cough or cold on the plane.
"We hope provide a probiotic that could alleviate respiratory tract infection or prevent it, and there's a wide scope of research here that we will definitely follow up on."
Both ingredients have GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) status, and are halal, kosher and vegetarian, as well as lactose- and dairy protein-free.
NZMP has also applied for non-GMO certification for them, which is currently pending.
According to Mistry-Mehta, the ingredients are presently also available in China, but will be made available in other APAC markets soon.
"So far, they have been used in finished products in ready-to-mix powder formats, sachets, tablets and capsules.
"While we are more prominent in Singapore and China at the moment, we definitely want to spread our presence across APAC and serve all the markets in the region eventually."