The members of the Pacific Island Noni Association received European marketing approval from the UK authorities in December, after demonstrating that their products are substantially equivalent to that sold by US-based Morinda.
It represents a unique application for novel foods as the products from each of the 26 listed PINA members must all be backed by the same technical data, bringing a number of almost identical products onto the market in one go.
The approval could however benefit the product's reputation forcing a standardisation of quality across the board, and a legal ban on any health claims in the region.
Noni juice, derived from the Morinda citrifolia L fruit, is traditionally consumed as a tonic in the Pacific region, but since being commercialised in the US about 50 years ago, marketers have used a range of unsubstantiated health claims, ranging from immune and digestive system support to increasing memory span and physical performance.
The product has become a billion dollar industry in the US but its false claims have kept it out of Europe.
In its assessment on the Morinda product in 2001, the EU's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) said that the data supplied and the information available "provided no evidence for special health benefits of Noni juice which go beyond those of other fruit juices".
The PINA producers must therefore also meet the same conditions determining Morinda's products, available in Europe since June 2003.
These are probably the most comprehensive so far announced by any EU food safety authority and will probably set the standards for any other company or organisations wishing to sell Noni juice in EU member states, claims the ACP-EU Centre for Development of Enterprise (CDE), which has backed the PINA's entry into Europe.
The CDE says it is currently considering a technical assistance programme to ensure that all PINA members, which are listed in the approval notice, meet the health, safety and quality standards required by the approval.
Denzil Phillips, a consultant working with CDE, believes Europe could become a €50 million market for the association.
"There is big demand for this product. Although its benefits have been hotly disputed, everybody agrees on its antioxidant properties," he told NutraIngredients.com.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland last year warned consumers about a number of independent distributors purchasing noni juice through internet sites and marketing the product in Ireland with health claims.
However Philips claims that the producers will not need to resort to claims to build a European market.
"With all functional foods there are problems with claims, especially with products sold on the web. But noni is a well-known name and already a big product in the US. The producers do not need to go there," he said.