Flora pro.activ

UK: Unilever looks to expand phytosterol esters to cooking and baking margarines

Unilever has applied to extend the use of the key cholesterol-lowering ingredient used in its Flora pro.activ range into cooking, baking and liquid margarine products, which would tap simultaneously into the growth sectors of functional foods and home-baking.

The company has applied to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to extend the use of phytosterol esters as a novel food ingredient. This is the third application made by Unilever for this novel food ingredient in the European Union. For this particular application, Unilever wishes to extend the use in margarines to include cooking and baking which were not covered in the original authorizations.

Unilever is also seeking to extend the use to liquid vegetable fat-based emulsions (liquid margarine products) which are used for cooking and baking.

The two original applications of this type by Unilever included one for margarines with added phytosterol esters, which was approved in 2000, followed by an application via the UK to extend use to ‘milk type’ and ‘yoghurt type’ products. This use was authorised in 2004.

The full Flora pro.activ range contains these plant sterols, which have been shown to lower blood cholesterol. According to Unilever, consuming 1.5 to 2.4g of plant sterols a day can lower cholesterol by 7 to 10% in two to three weeks, when combined as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Unilever has been investing heavily in its healthy foods offerings in the past few years, including products within the spreads category. According to the company, the healthy spreads category accounts for 22% of all butters and spreads and Flora pro.activ is a key player within this.

“Flora pro-activ is the UK’s number one cholesterol-lowering spread and it accounts for more than 4.1% of the Butters and Spreads category, worth £49m annually,” the company said.

“Health and taste are key drivers of the Butters & Spreads category,” said senior category manager for Chilled Food at Unilever, Adrian Adams. “However, shoppers are increasingly unwilling to compromise on taste in order to be healthier. This presents a clear opportunity for the category to maximise sales through tasty product innovation and also improved shopper education on how they can better manage their family’s health.”

By making this application, it is possible that Unilever plans to extend its Flora Cuisine product under the pro.activ umbrella. Flora Cuisine is a cooking liquid created from a blend of linseed, rapeseed and sunflower oils. The product, already described as ‘heart healthy’ is promoted for use in frying, roasting and baking. It is lower in saturated fat than olive oil and high in omega 3.

The popularity of home-baking continues to grow, particularly in countries such as the UK where consumers have been inspired by celebrity chefs and television baking programmes. In the UK the home-baking market is worth £1.8m and it has grown 37% in the past five years. Value and volume sales are reported to be in strong growth across Europe.

Source: Food Ingredients First