Wal-Mart launches sterols-fortified cheese in the UK

A sterols-fortified cheese hopes to invigorate a category that has delivered distinctly underwhelming results in the past — at least in Europe.

Called heartfelt+, the low-fat cheese is being produced by the UK's largest independent dairy food producer, Fayrefield Foods, and is available in Wal-Mart-owned UK retailer ASDA's 250-plus outlets. A 200g heartfelt+ pack retails at ?1.98 ($3.72), a premium of about 20 per cent over equivalent nonfortified cheeses.

It is fortified with Canadian sterol specialist Forbes Medi-Tech's Reducol ingredient. "Heartfelt+ is competitively priced, low in fat, great tasting and helps lower cholesterol," said Forbes president and CEO Charles Butt. "We believe the heartfelt+ product launch will help accelerate the adoption of Reducol throughout Europe."

There is reason for optimism in the sterols market, especially in the UK where the cholesterol-lowering food category has grown by 25-30 per cent, with market researcher TNS valuing it at $300 million in 2005 (about four times the size of the US market). A 2005 food industry poll conducted by Reuters Business Insight predicted cholesterol-lowering foods would be the most profitable health food by 2009.

But as the spreads market has already discovered, this optimism does not translate into all food categories and the sterols cheese market has shown itself to be somewhat of a fromage graveyard. UK retailer Tesco's own-label branded sterol offering 'A Healthier Alternative to Cheese' was pulled from shelves after a couple of years following poor demand. A Benecol-branded, stanols-fortified hard cheese had a similarly short life span in Finland.

Fayrefield will be hoping increased public awareness of the health benefits of sterols and stanols will drive consumers to sample the cheese. While this product comes under Fayrefield's own brand, the dairy has been producing a range of Reducol-fortified products under Tesco's own label since January.

California-based Lifeline Food Co launched four low-fat hard cheeses fortified with Cargill's CoroWise sterol ingredient in 2004 that the company said were performing well. Benecol has a stanol-imbued cream cheese in Belgium, Ireland, the UK and Finland.

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