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For Probiotic Drinks, Asia Is the Place

Barred from using health claims in Europe, beverage makers head east
For Probiotic Drinks, Asia Is the Place

The bacteria-laced drinks are pitched to aid intestinal flora
Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Meenakshi, one of hundreds of young women who zip around India’s dusty streets on scooters promoting the dairy drink Yakult, says health is her best sales pitch. The 22-year-old student knocks on doors two days a week to tell stay-at-home mothers, washing ladies, and residents living in makeshift shacks how Yakult’s microbes can help cultivate their “intestinal flora.” She gives a short rehearsed speech—the product’s 6.5 billion friendly bacteria per bottle help build immunity and protect against constipation, diarrhea, and infections—before passing out corporate leaflets to back up her assertions. “Customers do say their digestive systems have improved,” says Meenakshi, who uses one name only. “Regular customers rarely get infections.”