Probiotic Hot Teas and the Case for Gut Health

With tea perceived to be innately healthy, adding probiotics to support digestive health opens opportunities in hot tea innovation. Photo: Courtesy of Kerry.

Tea has been a popular drink for thousands of years, and its popularity shows no signs of abating. In fact, tea is consumed by two in three people – many of whom drink it more than once a day, which is contributing to the global tea market’s continued growth. For example, India’s tea exports rose to 248,000 tons in 2019 (up from 226.06 in 2017) (footnote 1), with Japan, Iran, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany all key markets (footnote 2). Tea exports from Sri Lanka climbed from 288.98 thousand tons in 2017 to 292.66 in 2019 (footnote 3) and Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Chile, Saudi Arabia and China are among its main markets (footnote 2).

Tea has a longstanding reputation as an innately healthy beverage, whether it’s pu-erh (a fermented tea traditionally grown in China that’s believed to lower the risk of cancer and improve good cholesterol) or kombucha (another type of fermented tea that’s potentially a rich source of probiotics and a powerful antioxidant). Studies also indicate polyphenols in green and black tea may prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and slow the effects of aging.

Because of the association of tea with health, one of the current drivers for growth in tea markets is increasing demand for teas with functional or health-giving benefits. Health-conscious consumers today continue to look to tea to boost their well-being, and this can range from stress relief and sleep promotion to digestive health.

Benefit-driven Teas Are Trending
Currently, gut health ranks as a top priority among consumers with 17 percent of people who drink tea saying they do so for digestive benefits (footnote 4). We also know that probiotics can help bolster tea’s appeal among consumers. In 2019, Kerry carried out a global survey of more than 11,000 health-conscious consumers in 14 countries. More than one fourth (28 percent) said they would be more interested in purchasing hot beverages if they contained ingredients that support a strong gut, and for ready-to-drink teas and coffees the figure was 20 percent (footnote 5)

A Mintel report released in July showed that digestive and probiotic claims shot up 31 percent within functional tea launches globally since March 2020. Compare this to 29 percent within the last three years, signaling potential growth for hot drinks with health benefits, such as tea. Recent innovations in tea with probiotics includes Lipton, Tetly Digest and Dogadan.

Research-supported Health Claims Build Consumer Trust

But not all probiotic teas are created equal, so formulating with probiotic ingredients that are backed by scientifically-supported benefits is key to meeting consumer needs. This resonates with the fact that globally, 39 percent of consumers say claims based on research or scientific data makes them more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product. This figure rises above half in countries like Thailand. Transparency is also a key factor – almost half (48 percent) of consumers in China, for example, want to see benefits explained on the packaging (footnote 6).

Probiotic-specific Attributes Are Key to Product Success
While its clear research-supported health claims are essential, maintaining the benefits of the probiotic ingredient can be difficult, especially given that traditionally, probiotics could not be added to tea as they cannot survive hot conditions. The probiotic must survive the manufacturing process, the shelf life of the product, and the exposure to boiling water necessary for the preparation of the beverage. For probiotics that are vegetative cells, this presents a problem, because these strains do not have the outer protective coat unlike spore-forming probiotics. This is where a spore-forming probiotic offers differentiated value for hot beverages. It is stable, can survive conditions like the manufacturing environment, extreme temperatures, the time from manufacture to storage, and ultimately, consumption. Clearly, the key to successful formulation lies in the stability of the strain.

Combine the “health halo” perception of tea with an evidence-backed, spore-forming probiotic, and the potential for gut-friendly tea is huge, along with the opportunity to win in the innovative hot tea space.

Aanchal Kumar is the business development manager for Kerry’s Applied Health & Nutrition business in Southwest Asia, Middle East, Africa and Turkey. She is responsible for the growth of Kerry’s branded functional ingredients, Wellmune and GanedenBC30. Aanchal has more than eight years of experience in the nutrition and functional ingredients industry. She has a master’s degree in nutraceutical sciences and an MBA in marketing management from the University of Mumbai. To learn more about Kerry, visit

1. Tea Board of India and Sri Lankan Exporters Association
2. Tea Exporters Association Sri Lanka newsletter, Q1 2020
3. Tea Board of India and Sri Lankan Exporters Association
4. Lightspeed/Mintel, December 2018
5. Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019
6. Kerry Global Consumer Survey – Digestive & Immune Health, 2019