The world’s first encapsulated probiotic drink uses patented micro-shield technology to deliver targeted in-gut release of effective probiotics.

PERKii® is the world’s first non-fermented, low-calorie probiotic drink that includes ProGel™’s microencapsulated probiotics. Developed at The University of Queensland, the ProGel™ micro-shield technology is designed to protect probiotics against harmful acids as they travel through the stomach. Once in the lower intestine, the probiotic is released from its micro-shield and attaches to the intestinal wall, where it proliferates.

Australian consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits of probiotics and are seeking out drinks that are healthier, tastier and lower in sugar.

Fermented probiotic products are an acquired taste, and a large segment of the community cannot tolerate dairy-based products or avoid dairy in their diets altogether. PERKii® provides an attractive alternative to traditional fermented and dairy-based probiotic products. Additionally, the probiotic strains used in PERKii® may support the body’s immune function and response to vaccines.

About the ProGel™ technology

Developed by Professor Bhesh Bhandari at The University of Queensland’s Faculty of Science, ProGel™ is a low-cost, micro-shield encapsulation method using a seaweed derivative that provides protection for a large range of bioactives like probiotics, Omega-3, supplements and drug compounds.

Tiny natural beads called microgels protect actives inside a natural alginate shield, allowing them to pass through the stomach intact and be released in the digestive system.

Different classes of actives can be encapsulated with this technology, including living cells, large and small molecules, and oils.

ProGel™ particles are undetectable to humans and are particularly suited to the protection of actives in aqueous environments.

The Discovery

When Professor Bhandari developed the process for the ProGel™ technology in 2005, he knew it had enormous consumer benefit potential. Many existing probiotic products did not have live probiotics by the end of their shelf life and could not ensure the safe passage of probiotics through the acidic stomach to the gut.

Professor Bhandari approached UniQuest, The University of Queensland (UQ’s) commercialisation company, which recognised the technology’s potential for market disruption.

From ProGel™’s technology development emerged the PERKii® product, brand and company. In 2016 PERKii Pty Ltd was established, and later that same year the company released the world’s first low-calorie, non-carbonated fruit flavoured probiotic drink. Unlike similar products on supermarket shelves, PERKii® was neither fermented nor cultured.

PERKii® provides a pleasant-tasting alternative to traditional fermented and dairy-based probiotic products and is just one application of UQ’s world-first ProGel™ encapsulation method that has the potential to revolutionise gut health on a global scale.

The path to commercialisation

UniQuest patented the ProGel™ technology and in 2009, ProGel Pty Ltd received its first investment of $400,000 from UniSeed and Brisbane Angels. These investors contributed more than $1 million in additional funding, along with significant support from several Australian Government programs. The initial business plan was to license the ProGel™ technology to a large beverage or yoghurt manufacturer.

After five years, it became apparent that established food and beverage companies preferred to buy innovative companies with good sales records, rather than adopt transformational new technologies.

With the support from shareholders, UniQuest, Uniseed and Brisbane Angels, ProGel™ decided to spin out the PERKii® probiotic drink opportunity into PERKii Pty Ltd.

The PERKii® probiotic drink was created and trademarked, and patents granted in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and the United States. PERKii® was nurtured by Woolworths’ startup program WStart after the supermarket giant noticed a consumer shift towards functional drinks.

PERKii Pty Ltd raised $4 million in Series A funding through Uniseed, Brisbane Angels and a series of sophisticated investors, to take PERKii® to the Australian market.

Within two years, PERKii® became available in over 1,000 stores across Australia, including major supermarket chains Woolworths, IGA and Foodworks, and large health food outlets such as THRIVE, AboutLife and Go Vita.

In 2017, PERKii Pty Ltd secured $1.5 million from the Queensland Government’s Business Development Fund to increase production and expand sales.

PERKii® is now available in more than 2,000 supermarkets, cafes and health food eateries across Australia, including Woolworths, Coles, Costco, and more than 500 food service outlets as well as Coles Express and Caltex outlets.

In 2021, the company launched its 100% plant-based sparkling probiotic drinks, blended with natural flavours. PERKii® Sparkling contains the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium, the world’s best documented strain.

PERKii Pty Ltd is actively working to take the drink to the US, and then Japan, Hong Kong and China.

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Sector

Agriculture and Food Sciences

impact-inventor

Innovator

Professor Bhesh Bhandari
UQ Faculty of Science

Impact-overview

Overview

World’s first non-fermented probiotic drink

Commercialisation

Patent applications
Licensed intellectual property
Pitching to investors