The company provided NutraIngredients-USA.com with a selection of 'unique' new product examples from its Productscan Online database, saying that the results reveal "the increasing appeal" of probiotics. The Productscan data recorded 523 new stock keeping units (SKUs) globally in the probiotic foods and beverages sector last year. Datamonitor classifies SKUs as all of the different sizes, flavors, varieties and packages of products. In 2006, the market research firm recorded 361 SKUs, and in 2005 it recorded 282. Prior to that, there were 187 SKUs recorded in 2004 and 153 in 2003. So far, there have been 377 SKUs recorded in 2008. "This is a very active area and there's quite a bit of new product innovation going on. We see a doubling of these products since 2003 on our database, and that's a pretty good indication of upward movement," Productscan Online director Tom Vierhile told NutraIngredinets-USA.com. Innovation Probiotics have been traditionally included in a limited range of products because of the particular challenges related to their use. The healthy bacteria will only deliver benefits if they are alive, which means that manufacturers need to ensure the ingredients survive processing and storage conditions. However, heightened R&D efforts coupled with increasing science has meant that the ingredients are starting to appear in new categories. Some of the products highlighted by Datamonitor include Chapman's frozen yogurt product, launched in Canada. The product contains two active probiotic cultures: lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis. The Canadian market also saw the launch of a soy beverage by White Wave Foods. The firm's Silk Fortified drink states on its packaging that it contains the NuraFlora probiotic. In the US, Zukay Live Foods has launched a salsa sauce that is said to contain probiotics. Datamonitor notes that "this seems kind of an odd area to find a new probiotic launch since salsa is not a product most consumers would associate with live cultures." The US also saw the launch of a probiotic dill relish and a ketchup product from Zukay Live Foods, as well as a puffed snack product by Robert's American Gourmet. Quality Although 'probiotic' has become a buzz word in the industry and in the marketplace, one of the main challenges is to ensure that the cultures remain live and the products therefore remain effective for the claimed benefits. In 2002, a FAO/WHO working group report set out minimum criteria for probiotics in food, which include a definition of genus, species and strain, as well as a safety assessment and efficacy research in humans. However, because there is still no legalized definition of 'probiotic', the term is used on products that may not meet minimum criteria. The issue remains top priority for the probiotics industry, which has repeatedly urged manufactures to follow such criteria. Benefits The market for probiotics continues to grow as awareness of their health benefits increases, together with their scientific backing. Some of the benefits of probiotics include immune stimulation, enhancement of bowel mobility, and reduction of inflammatory or allergic reactions. Digestive health is slowly gathering speed in the US market, but it still lags behind other health concerns, such as heart health, immune health or weight management. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, there are 95m people in the US that suffer from digestive problems. Some 60m are thought to suffer from heartburn, and 50m from irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, it is estimated that around 20m people suffer from stomach ulcers. To date, the largest segment of the digestive health market - particularly within the functional food category - is taken up by products made with probiotics, or 'friendly bacteria'.