The world-first use of plant sterols in a mainstream juice product could be just the platform to boost a stalling market for the cholesterol-reducing ingredient, according to many in the industry. Coca Cola-owned Minute Maid?s national roll-out of ?Premium HeartWise? in the US late last year is being keenly watched not only by Cargill, which supplies the patented CoroWise sterol ingredient, and the other ?big three? sterol suppliers (Forbes Medi-Tech, ADM and Cognis), but all players in the food industry.
Unlike the hitherto dominant sterol platform—spreads—HeartWise Premium does not carry a price premium. It retails for about $3.29 for a 64oz carton, the same price as Minute Maid?s other refrigerated juices, and carries a Food and Drug Administration-approved cholesterol-lowering claim.
?We have partnered with Cargill because they have a natural plant sterol that works well in orange juice and they have worked closely with us to make sure it?s a product consumers like and our testing has born this out conclusively,? said Minute Maid spokesperson Ray Crockett. ?They couldn?t taste the difference between HeartWise and our regular juices.?
According to Steve Snyder, vice president of sales and marketing at Cargill Health and Food Technologies, HeartWise has the potential to resolve some of the problems that have characterised the sterol spreads market. ?The problem for spreads, at least in the US, was that they were not seen as healthy and so there was an inherent misfit in the product message. In contrast, this platform and brand is utterly mainstream and utterly healthy.?
Cargill is also supplying CoroWise to Hain Celestial Group?s Rice Dream HeartWise rice drink in the US. A soft cheese brand will also carry the ingredient in the near future. It?s all part of Cargill?s strategy to broaden functionality platforms. ?We are aggressively targeting healthy brands to be included in the CoroWise family of brands,? Snyder said. ?One of the reasons we really like the Rice Dream co-brand is that it brings the natural channel into the CoroWise family whereas Minute Maid is more mainstream.?
European going is tougher
Snyder said he saw Europe as a potentially buoyant market for similar products but noted, ?The European public is being prevented from getting these benefits because of the bureaucracy of the Novel Foods legislation.?
Nonetheless two companies—Forbes Medi-Tech and Finnish-based sterols developer Teriaka—have both received positive signals from the European Commission on their respective Novel Foods applications. ?Our application took more than three years,? said Teriaka managing director, Bengt Hallsten. ?It has been an extremely complicated and political process but we have met final requirements and are about to receive permission to market our ingredient, Diminicol, in four categories: yoghurt, yellow spreads, milk-based fruit drinks and soft cheeses. So this is good.? Forbes Medi-Tech has received a favourable scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority to use its Reducol ingredient in milk-based drinks but must meet labelling and other requirements before reaching the market. ?The big advantage we have in Europe is that our sterols are non-genetically modified,? said Forbes manager of investor relations Darren Speed.
Both men agreed the Minute Maid launch was significant for the sterols market. ?For a recognisable consumer product such as Minute Maid to employ sterols is fantastic,? said Speed. ?It casts a very positive light on the sterols industry.?