Case History: Probiotics Muscle in on Protein Bars

Process-resistant, long-life probiotics gave Max Muscle Sports Nutrition a protein bar with a difference.

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In a sea of cereal bars, how does a product marketer differentiate itself?

For Max Muscle Sports Nutrition, a national franchiser of sports nutrition products, the answer was to launch the first probiotics-enhanced protein bar in the U.S.: Max Crunch.

“We have long known the health benefits probiotics deliver in improving digestion and enhancing immunity, but we are just now learning about the ability to help with protein digestion,” says Phil Harvey, chief scientific officer for Max Muscle, Anaheim, Calif. “This is a major breakthrough for the sports nutrition field.”

And a breakthrough is what the company wanted. Max Muscle Peanut Butter Bar had a traditional bar product six years ago, but it was discontinued. Still, the franchisees of its 140 stores nationwide wanted a protein bar to sell along with the creatine, amino acid and protein mixes.

Developing a new bar product was a goal for Harvey since he joined the company three years ago, “although I realized it’s a crowded category,” he says. Some kind of differentiation would be key.

Harvey didn't go looking for a probiotic, but he came across Ganeden Biotech as an exhibitor at the Supply Side West trade show two years ago. “I thought it was fascinating, a probiotic strain that could survive processing,” he recalls. “Our only interest was in the protein and to develop some kind of a different bar, but probiotics in particular made a lot of sense.”

Probiotics are live microorganisms containing beneficial bacteria or yeasts. They convert carbohydrates (such as the milk sugar lactose) into lactic acid, aiding digestion and lowering gastrointestinal pH enough to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. Probiotics may aid protein digestion, according to some recent research Harvey discovered, and they may be particularly helpful with the digestion of lactose, which comes naturally with the milk-derived proteins that are key to most protein bars.

Cleveland-based Ganeden Biotech Inc. claims to be the largest seller of over-the-counter probiotics in the U.S. through its Digestive Advantage and Sustenex brands. It also licenses its patented probiotic bacteria, GanedenBC30, for use in commercial food and beverage applications, medical foods, nutraceuticals and in animal health industries.

GanedenBC30 is a form of the probiotic strain Bacillus coagulans, which research has shown to be effective in supporting healthy immune and digestive systems. Additionally, the unique ability of GanedenBC30 to survive harsh manufacturing processes and to remain shelf stable without refrigeration makes it ideal for inclusion in shelf-stable foods.

GanedenBC30 is spore-forming, with its genetic material protected by an organic shell, enabling it to survive extreme temperatures and acidic environments to thrive in the gut better than other probiotic strains.

Ganeden had already developed prototype bars and proved the survivability of the probiotic through processing and months of shelf life. “Considering the demands placed on the digestive systems of athletes and others who supplement with protein, it is imperative that the digestive system function optimally to properly utilize the added protein,” says Mike Bush, Ganeden’s vice president of business development.

Processing involved the mixing of dry ingredients with a hot (120DEG) wet ingredient. The temperature of the moist ingredient and the pressure of bar-forming together would kill most probiotics. But the added requirement of a long, unrefrigerated shelf life was the final challenge. “Without refrigeration, most probiotics can only last a week or two,” Bush says. But Ganeden has data that proves BC30 survives longer, in this application a year or more.

Actually, the final challenge was taste, as often is the case. While the BC30 adds no taste or color to the bar, such high concentrations of protein usually need some masking. Product developers from Max Muscle, Ganeden and a contract manufacturer worked together to fine-tune the flavor profile until Harvey thought he had a hit.

Harvey says the franchisees were excited at the prospect of having a truly unique bar product. Max Crunch bars, in chocolate and peanut butter, start rolling out in Max Muscle stores this month. “They’re exclusively in our stores at this point,” Harvey hedges. “Depending upon their success, we could roll them out further.”

And GanedenBC30 has begun showing up in a number of food products, including nutrition bars from PC Brands and Sunny Crunch Foods, frozen yogurt from Pierre’s Ice Cream and muffins from Isabella’s Healthy Bakery.

“We are thrilled to play a role in the expanding field of probiotic-enhanced food and beverage products,” said Ganeden CEO Andy Lefkowitz. “The demand for functional foods continues to grow, and we are proud to be able to continue to partner with strong brands such as Max Muscle to meet this demand.”

For more information, contact Ganeden Biotech at 440-229-5200, or visit www.ganedenlabs.com.

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