Probiotics newcomer: Australia’s Activated Nutrients seeks to build reputation for precision products on back of bumper pharmacy deal
Founded six years ago, the firm is known for its organic superfood supplements and now, it has ambitions to build its reputation in the precision probiotic realm with its second brand, the "Activated Probiotics".
Working with both Swedish and Italian probiotic suppliers, the firm has launched nine types of precision probiotics in over 1,000 Australian pharmacies, including Blooms the Chemist and Ramsay Pharmacy.
The functions go beyond the usual gut health benefits that most relate probiotics with, spanning across bone health, asthma, mood, iron absorption, and sports recovery etc.
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, founder and COO Blair Norfolk said the decision to go into probiotics was to tap on its speed of growth and robust clinical research.
“The biggest issue with supplement category is a lack of evidence and efficacy. Probiotics is the one category in complimentary medicine that is doing things differently.
“The clinical work going on with the leaders in Probiotics resembles that of pharmaceuticals, minus the side effects, often associated with drugs.
“Second to this, these products have such a profound measurable effect on a number of serious diseases, such as osteoporosis, asthma, mood and new research is coming out relating to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease,” Norfolk said.
The firm insists to sell its products in pharmacies, omitting other channels such as the e-commerce to focus on medical marketing.
“There is a huge growth in a lack of trust in supplements, especially in the Australian markets. There is a tonne of debate going on about why do we need a probiotic, what do they do, are they good for you.
“The thing that always come out is where is the clinical evidence, where is the proof that this works.
“Pharmacies are a unique distribution channel that bring credibility and trust for consumers that other distribution channels lack.”
He added that pharmacies also offered an additional opportunity to sell precision probiotics with drugs for the more serious conditions.
Asked the initial market reception to the probiotics, he said he expected the products to capture “a significant market share very quickly, the main reason being that there is no competitor product.”
Notably, the firm said it had managed to marry proprietary strains from two probiotic firms through an exclusive global deal.
The two strains are Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (DSM 9843) and L. rhamnosus GG (ATCC 53103), which have about 10 and 300 clinical trials conducted respectively.
The DSM number is the international strain bank designation number, and all clinical trials associated with a particular strain will be listed under the DSM.
Combining the two strains are robustly trialled would help to address a greater variety of gut health issues in individuals experiencing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Norfolk said.
“These two strains have not been put before in a combination product because they are owned by two competitors. We build a relationship with both of these companies, we put the two strains together, and they gave us global exclusive license around the formulation.
“The reason why this is so important is because 10% is said to have medically diagnose IBS, but up to 20% of the global population have IBS like symptoms, because it is a syndrome, no one product can help everyone.
“With plantarum 299v, this might help 20, 30, or 40% of the Australian population in their IBS syndrome. Rhamnosus GG might help a different 20, 30, or 40% of the population, so when we put it together, we are casting a wider net to help people,” he said.
The firm is finding out more about other health benefits that probiotics can provide, with ongoing research works in the cognitive and pre-diabetes space.
“We do have a research partner in Colorado who is looking into PD and this is no secret, there are a number of publication recently about PD and the gut microbiome.
“There are certain protein strands, bacteria, pathogens that are in the brain of people with PD that are not in the brain of the healthy persons.
“Another area that we are looking at is pre-diabetes and type II diabetes…There is data publicly available that suggest you can reduce absorption of glucose through probiotics,” Norfolk said.
At present, the firm’s scientific research team is led by chief scientific officer Dr Jaroslav Boublik, who has conducted research in institutions such as CSIRO and Prince Henry’s Medical Research Centre.
With a sleuth of specialised products, the firm has expressed interest to take on the Chinese market, which is seeing especially fast growth in infant nutrition space.
The firm is not officially selling its products in China yet, but has set a timeline for the eventual expansion.
In early 2020, it will make its probiotics available through cross-border e-commerce on Tmall.
Other channels include WeChat, reaching out to the Chinese consumers via Australian universities.
There are also plans to even go into the brick-and-mortar stores via the orange-hat certification.
The firm has also set its eyes on other Asian markets, in particular, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and even Singapore.
At home, it plans to grow its presence into more pharmacies, increasing the number of pharmacies selling its products from 1,100 to 2,500.
Chinese partnerships on the cards?
In the recent years, Australian firms are a prime target for Chinese investors.
Last year, probiotic firm Lifespace was acquired by BY-HEALTH, and earlier on, Swisse was bought by the H&H Group.
Norfolk revealed that Activated Nutrients has been receiving attention from the Chinese investors as well.
“Swisse was bought out three years ago for AUD$1.67bn, Lifespace was sold last year for AUD$690m to BY-HEALTH.
“There seem to be a bit of a trend for Australian brands getting bought out by big Chinese supplement companies. It is definitely a very interesting proposition, but still too early days for us,” Norfolk said.