The European Commission recently approved the use of plant sterols and sterol esters in foods such as milk, cheese products and sauces, opening up a range of new applications for functional food companies.
However it also released a generic regulation on phytosterol labelling to apply to all sterol-based foods, including those already on the market, with a detailed reference to the recommended daily dose of up to 3 grams per day.
This means that the food industry will need to 'get creative' to design foods that are compact enough to contain this amount in a single serving, suggests Jouko Broman, vice president of sales and marketing at Raisio Benecol.
While yoghurts and daily 'shot' yoghurt drinks are an ideal medium for sterols, full size milks may be limited by the maximum dosage.
"This is the optimal daily dose for seeing an effect on reducing LDL cholesterol but I don't know if anyone drinks a whole litre of milk everyday," said Broman.
Meanwhile sauces such as mayonnaise tend not to be consumed on a regular, daily basis, making it difficult for consumers to eat enough to see a cholesterol-lowering effect.
The new novel foods approvals, announced in April, include salad dressings and mayonnaise, milk type products such as semi and skimmed milks that could also include fruits and/or cereals, yellow fat spreads and fermented milk products such as yoghurt, soya drinks and cheese-type products.
But pricing could also make it difficult to put some of these on the market.
"Milks are difficult to price," noted Broman, as they tend not to be a premium product. "We have already seen this with our spreads, where the sterol-containing products are 3-4 times the price of regular margarine."
Yoghurts have proved the most well-suited to sterols, according to Raisio, although the firm has launched a low-fat UHT milk containing Benecol in the Spanish market, with new launches planned elsewhere.
Unilever has also been selling sterol-containing milks in the UK for several months.
However the new dosage limit is likely to influence development of the next sterol-based foods reaching European markets.
"We understand the precaution for limiting the dosage of sterols but it makes the pack size of the food important. The food industry will have to get creative to get around this," added Broman.