8th September 2021 - Probiotics in animal nutrition has exploded in the last decade and thanks to continuous advancements in molecular biology and gene sequencing, it is widely slated for further growth in the coming few years. The result is a rapidly expanding market of various products and strains that is getting more difficult for producers to stand out in.
And it is a situation that Huvepharma is well aware of as it gears up to launch an effervescent version of its popular B-Act® probiotic, called B-Act® Buzz, which is slated to replace its current water-soluble powder version of the product.
"One thing everyone can agree on regarding the probiotic market is that it is a very mature and saturated one," the company's Global Product Manager for Feed Additives, Wouter Van der Veken told Feedinfo in a recent sit down. "When probiotics just arrived on the scene in animal husbandry, they were presented as the next big revolution. Probiotics were also often put forward as the go-to replacement for classic growth promoters. The current probiotic market is the historic result of a decade-long search for a "silver bullet", a search that for some continues to this day. Luckily more and more industry players are realising the importance of a holistic approach to deal with production challenges, which is a very healthy development. It is much more about identifying and understanding the challenge instead of simply adding a product and hoping for the best."
What follows in today's Industry Perspectives is a more in-depth conversation about how the company plans to navigate this busy market to ensure B-Act® Buzz's success, what prompted its development and how the new version can better benefit farmers.
[Feedinfo] Why do you think there is still a need to educate the industry on probiotics? Where do you see gaps in its understanding/awareness of this product category?
[Wouter Van der Veken] Looking at the probiotic market, the number of products, strains and combinations available can be very overwhelming. Making the right probiotic choice seems like a daunting challenge at first sight, especially for those not familiar with the world of microorganisms. Recently there has been a noticeable push towards educating the industry further, which has been a good effort so far. However, in some cases this has also increased the complexity of the matter in a certain way: the focus has very much been on the mode of action of probiotics in general (which indeed is a complex topic and requires further explanation), but it has not really focused on the practical differences between the types of products that are currently out there.
For example, from a practical point of view there are massive differences between spore-forming probiotics and non-spore formers, as the latter will be much less heat stable. As a client, it is much more relevant to know if a probiotic is compatible with the operation before diving into the mode of action. It is by starting with the practical side of things that major differentiations can be made in the current probiotic market, thereby greatly simplifying the process of choosing the right one.
[Feedinfo] How does Huvepharma cut through all this confusion to help its probiotic offerings stand out from the competition?
[Wouter Van der Veken] We try to look at probiotics from a more practical point of view and use the clients' perspective and their challenge at hand as the starting point. In short, there are three key questions that should be asked when looking at a probiotic product. The first deals with the characteristics of the product itself: is the product based on a spore-forming probiotic or on vegetative cells? Spore-forming probiotics are more stable, especially during feed processing.
The second question examines the product logic: is the product based on one or multiple strains? Multi-strain probiotics do not bring more benefits, so a good single-strain suffices.
The third and last question might seem obvious at first, but is essential nevertheless: what information is available for the specific probiotic strains included? Strains differ, so specific research is needed to make a well-informed decision.
The answers to these questions are fairly straightforward, based on uncomplicated logic and backed up with independent scientific research. At Huvepharma, we carry out novel research each year with the sole purpose of continuously improving our understanding of the probiotic strains we work with. Next to this, a large part of our research focuses on confirming that what we observe in the lab is also applicable on a larger scale. In vitro lab work is a great place to start, but at the end of the day it is the in vivo farm work which is relevant to our clients. Keeping all of this in mind, it is no surprise that all of our probiotic products are based on single spore-forming strains, each researched extensively and independently.
We are also one of the very few European-based manufacturers that are able to produce from strain to shelf. In other words, we are in control from the very start to the very end. This gives us great opportunities in terms of turning R&D projects into finished projects and implementing quality check points along the entire production cycle. Combined with more than 50 years of fermentation experience and recent investments in our production capacity, we are set to grow with our clients' needs, whilst securing the highest product quality possible.
[Feedinfo] The popularity of probiotics is, in part, fuelled by the industry's push for antibiotic-free production. For poultry producers this move has led to an increase in opportunistic intestinal diseases like necrotic enteritis. What role can probiotics play in managing these conditions?
[Wouter Van der Veken] As the name suggests, an opportunistic intestinal disease requires the conditions to be right to break through. We see the gastrointestinal tract as the motor of performance, and managing, protecting and maintaining it as one of the keys to success. Probiotics offer a great tool to do so and, thanks to the wide diversity in strains, chances are high that there will be one that fits the intended solution.
However, probiotics should always be part of a larger plan, adapted as much as possible to the situation at hand. Looking at necrotic enteritis (NE) specifically, it is imperative to acknowledge it is not only about keeping Clostridium perfringens in check. Yes, the bacteria is one of the major factors in the onset and development of NE, but it is an opportunistic pathogen. In other words, there are multiple predisposing factors that need to be present before C. perfringens becomes an issue. One of those factors is the development of dysbacteriosis, also known as dysbiosis: a disruption of the microbiota's homeostasis, usually linked back to an imbalance in the microflora. It is exactly here where certain probiotics can come into play towards preventing and mitigating NE. Our Bacillus licheniformis - the active strain in the B-Act® range - is a good example thereof, taking on NE with a two-pronged approach. The first is based on preventing dysbiosis taking hold in the first place, making sure gut health is secured and the motor keeps running. However, if C. perfringens does take hold, our strain can exert a direct inhibitory effect on the opportunistic bacteria, mitigating any potential NE further.
To summarise, probiotics have their part to play in mitigating challenges on-farm, especially as production systems change. It is imperative to understand that a probiotic can exert a benefit (preventing dysbacteriosis, for example), without this immediately showing up in the final technical results. Depending on the strain used, a probiotic can act as a first line of defence - not necessarily increasing production out right but securing in.
[Feedinfo] In a recent study you explored the effectiveness of your B-Act® probiotic solution on NE in broilers. What were some of the key findings?
[Wouter Van der Veken] Initial research showed that the B. licheniformis in B-Act® had strong inhibitory effects on multiple pathogens, and the effect on mitigating C. perfringens stuck out. As it is one of the major bacterial agents in the onset and development of NE, it seemed logical to test if B-Act® could mitigate NE on-farm as well.
To do so, we ran a 42-day trial in broilers under commercial conditions, to simulate a real on-farm situation as closely as possible. Health and production performance parameters were recorded in the trial, which has since been published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition (JAAN, 2021). The trial set-up included an induced NE challenge with all animals receiving the same amount of C. perfringens on day 19, 20 and 21. This C. perfringens strain was isolated from a commercial operation where it had caused severe NE.
Over the course of the study three groups were evaluated: a negative control (basal diet), a B-Act® group (1.6 x 1012 CFU B. licheniformis DSM 28710/tonne of feed, supplemented from start until finish) and an antibiotic group. Animals in this latter group were treated with oxytetracycline hydrochloride (OXT; according to label recommendations), for three consecutive days after the NE challenge.
Even under the induced challenge, weight gains and feed conversion ratios of the B-Act® and OXT groups were similar to each other and significantly improved compared to the control group at the end of the study (P < 0.05). Weight gain of the B-Act® group was already significantly higher compared to the control on day 21 (P < 0.05), indicating a benefit of the probiotic even before the NE challenge took hold. From a health perspective, NE lesion scores, NE mortality and general mortality were also significantly lower for the B-Act® and OXT groups (P < 0.05).
This trial demonstrates that feeding B-Act® significantly improves health and growth parameters of broilers, even under a severe NE challenge. These results are in line with what we have seen in some of our other research, as well as the feedback we regularly get from the field. It also highlights the discussed two-pronged approach: even before the NE challenge, animals supplemented with B-Act® already outperformed the control, simply by supporting and maintaining proper gut health. As said before, the gastrointestinal tract is the motor of performance, and supporting it is always a good idea.
[Feedinfo] You are now gearing up for the release of B-Act® Buzz, an effervescent tablet solution which is slated to replace your B-Act® WSP (water soluble powder) product. What was the strategic thinking behind its development and how will it be a better solution for farmers?
[Wouter Van der Veken] Although our WSP formulation has been doing very well, we have always kept our ears open for any feedback from the market. Two key points became apparent over time: space efficiency and water quality assurance. The WSP product comes in a plastic pail containing 20 individual sachets of 100 grams each, whilst each sachet is water soluble. However, there was a great deal of unused space within each pail which was often seen as "lost space" in transport and storage, both in our distributors' warehouses as well as on farm. Coupled with an increased focus on sustainability within Huvepharma itself, creating more efficient packaging also made sense from a transport perspective. By reducing the lost space, we can increase overall transport efficiency which contributes towards our goal of reducing our company's carbon footprint.
Apart from this, a drinking water application allows for a more flexible approach to probiotic supplementation, but it does require adding a product to an already complex system. Drinking water quality and management are some of the major factors influencing animal performance, making the continuous availability of high-quality water paramount. As some clients were cautious when considering a probiotic application via the drinking water, we made sure the new B-Act® Buzz formulation addressed these concerns: each tablet is only 50 grams (whilst still containing the same amount of active probiotic compared to the 100 grams of WSP), and we adapted the type of carriers as well. By doing so, we decreased the amount of product that needs to be added, whilst maintaining efficient delivery of the same amount of active. Simultaneously, ease of use has also increased thanks to the effervescence of each tablet.
Basing the novel formulation and application method on our clients' feedback simply made sense, and also fits in with our larger goals as an industry leader: to develop and offer highly efficient products that are produced with the greatest attention to quality and without losing sight of sustainability. B-Act® Buzz hits the mark on all of those criteria, efficiently combining our standards with clients' requirements.
[Feedinfo] You are planning to initially launch B-Act® Buzz only in Europe. When exactly can we expect the product to hit the market there? Are there plans to roll it out to other territories? What are you expecting for its first year of commercial sales?
[Wouter Van der Veken] The current European launch date is set for late Q3/early Q4, which lines up with the arrival of the new registration for our B. licheniformis strain in layers. This timing offers an opportunity to refresh the attention for our complete B-Act® range, including the in-feed application.
The intention is to first see how our clients welcome the B-Act® Buzz; we expect to at least maintain our current turnover in Europe, followed by an increased uptake in 2022. The current global situation has put an external pressure on current feed prices, and as a result, feed additives have come under pressure as well. By offering a flexible water-soluble formulation, we hope to address this challenge; a client does not need to commit to a full in-feed program with B-Act® Buzz, whilst still being able to supplement probiotics when needed.
Expanding the product to other territories is definitely on the cards by will be judged based on the initial reception in Europe. If all goes well, it is up to local regulations to determine if other areas can follow, and when.
[Feedinfo] How do you see the EU's recently published registration for B-Act®'s use in layers impacting your growth strategy for the range and B-Act® Buzz?
[Wouter Van der Veken] With the approval in layers, we have completed the full registration of our B. licheniformis for its use as a zootechnical feed additive in poultry, for all species and at all production stages. This was achieved in a very short time, and highlights both the safety as well as the efficacy of the probiotic strain. Our B-Act® range offers one of the best probiotic solutions when looking to conquer gut health-related challenges, supporting and securing technical performance along the way - ultimately resulting in an improved profitability as well.