Europe's first sterols-fortified OJ debuts in the UK

PepsiCo has launched Europe's first nondairy, stanols-fortified beverage in the United Kingdom under its Tropicana brand. Fortified with Benecol, a stanol-ester ingredient by Finland-based Raisio, the juice is part of the functional Tropicana Essentials range, which includes calcium, multivitamin and fibre-enhanced juices.

"The Tropicana Essentials range is positioned as a functional range of products to meet specific health needs, but not all concerns are currently addressed," said PepsiCo trade marketing manager Cara Beeby. "Tropicana Essentials with Benecol will answer a key health concern whilst retaining all the great taste of Tropicana."

The one-litre juice retails for $4.50 and is being backed with a $1.25 million marketing and promotional spend that Tropicana UK marketing director Will Ghali said will target professional health-conscious consumers over the age of 45.

"Two out of three consumers in the UK have raised cholesterol so this is potentially a huge target audience for us," he said. Further fortified juices were planned for the range and launches in other markets were "a possibility," he said.

Tropicana's move comes as Coca-Cola awaits an EU Novel Foods verdict for drinks consisting of juice and nectars with added plant sterols. Coke's sterol is supplied by Cargill, whose CoroWise sterol ingredient was the first to be used in an orange juice when Coca-Cola launched Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise in the US in late 2003.

Coke's European application received a favourable opinion from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) last year, but some member states expressed reservations and so the process stalled. Coke is hopeful a positive outcome will be achieved this year.

Tropicana had no such issues with its Benecol ingredient, as it was present on the European market before 1997 when the Novel Foods legislation was enacted, and therefore exempt from its procedures.

Like Minute Maid Heart Wise in the US, Tropicana Essentials with Benecol leverages the health kudos of its ingredient partner in its marketing and packaging, but perhaps even more prominently than Heart Wise and CoroWise, by including the ingredient in the very name of the product.

A well-established market
One major difference between the US and UK markets is the maturity of the European cholesterol-lowering market, where branded one-shot, sterol/stanol-fortified dairy drinks, yoghurts and spreads are well-established and showing robust growth. This market is in its infancy in the US.

It will be interesting to note if European consumers who may have become accustomed to attaining their cholesterol-lowering dose in a one-shot drink will be willing to make a category substitution and move to an orange juice.

"Consumers are already aware that Benecol is the pioneer in bringing new cholesterol-reducing foods to market and as a result we are confident that Tropicana Essentials with Benecol will be a great addition to the Essentials range," said Tropicana's Beeby.

Jouko Broman, vice president of ingredients sales at Raisio, told FF&N that there was little point in making US-European comparisons.

"We don't see the US as a precedent because cholesterol-lowering functional foods haven't really taken off there," Broman said. "European consumers are much more receptive as they are keener on prevention than their US counterparts."

He said Benecol's partnership with Tropicana was part of a strategy to broaden the range of stanol-fortified foods and beverages. "This is a good opening for us," he said. "First came spreads, then dairy drinks and yoghurts, and now the third category which is juices.

"We want to move Benecol into as many regular foods as possible. We are discussing this all the time with our partners including those in South East Asia and South America, where we are analysing local eating habits. For instance in South America, we are looking at Tortilla options."

Benecol has also struck a deal with German mineral water and fruit-juice maker Rhoen Sprudel, which will see apple- and orange-flavoured spring waters with added Benecol stanols on German shelves in March. Broman said ready meals, soups, cereals and breakfast items were being researched for stanol fortification potential by Raisio.

Other players to leap into the estimated $600 million European sterol/stanol market include the UK's biggest retailer Tesco with an own-label range of spreads, yoghurts and one-shot drinks fortified with Canadian biotech firm Forbes MediTech's ingredient.

Finnish food company Fazer received Novel Foods approval for a sterols-fortified rye bread as FF&N went to press.

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