Asian appeal still strong as sterol juice launches in region

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cholesterol Southeast asia East asia

The penetration of Asian markets by functional ingredients manufacturers continues apace with the launch of a juice containing cholesterol lowering plant sterols and stanols in the Philippines.

Western-style diets and lifestyles are taking hold in some Asian countries and bringing concomitant health problems, particularly in urban areas of China, India and some south east Asian countries where affluence is on the rise such as Malaysia and Thailand.

Canadian supplier, Forbes Medi-Tech, said a new pineapple juice produced and distributed by Del Monte Philippines will be sold in 240ml single serving cans and will include 1gm of its Reducol, which the firm said is clinically proven to help consumers lower their Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by up to 24 per cent.

The extension of Reducol to juices follows its incorporation into other product formats such as yoghurts, yoghurt drinks, processed cheese, milk drinks and spreads.

However, the cholesterol lowering juice launch by Forbes follows notable failures of similarly positioned products in the European and North American. Poor performers include a Tropicana Benecol orange juice that was withdrawn from the UK market after little more than a year as sales flatlined.

In the US, sales of Minute Maid Heartwise orange juice, which is fortified with Cargill’s Corowise sterol ingredient, have also struggled to rise above niche level sales since being launched in 2003, and this despite a Food and Drug Administration approved cholesterol lowering health claim.

Stalled markets

Laura Wessman, senior vice president of operations at Forbes, said that the sterol supplier is intending to extend the product roll out into other countries within the South East Asia region.

Forbes joins a growing list of companies beginning to push into developing markets as European and North American markets for stanol/sterol functional foods have been stalling for some years.

Raisio, the supplier of sterol category leader, Benecol recently said traditional European markets were no longer “high-growth areas” for the firm which had made product development in Asia a strategic priority.

Chinese obesity

Last year it launched products containing Benecol in China, India and Indonesia, with the CEO of the Finnish group, Matti Rihkom, claiming the Chinese market offered huge potential. He said that over 300m of its 1.3bn inhabitants had acquired the wealth and eating habits of westerners – and with it rising obesity and cholesterol levels.

There are 20m people in Beijing alone and in that city the average cholesterol level has increased from 4.5 to 5.5 in recent years,”​ he said. “That’s higher than in Finland. China may be on the verge of an obesity epidemic.”

Benecol along with Unilever’s pro.activ dominate the sterol and stanol market that includes Danone’s Danacol as well as private-label offerings. Moreover, they are the first plant sterols to obtain European Commission regulatory approval for the use of a disease risk reduction health claim under the 2006 nutrition and health claim regulations.

Consumer confusion

Trevor Gorin, the head of Unilever PLC & UK Media Relations, speaking to last year cited consumer confusion and increased competition from other healthy offerings such as probiotics and whole grains like oats as major reasons for the sterol market slow down in the UK.

He claimed confusion is also caused by foods claiming '0% cholesterol' or 'cholesterol free' whereby "consumers no longer see the difference between something that isn't making your LDL cholesterol worse, versus a product like Pro.activ that is actually lowering it."

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