As a result of their structure, sterol esters can only be added to fat-based products but this gives consumers trying to cut their cholesterol levels a 'mixed message', according to ADM's technical manager in Europe, Michelle Jones.
Many of those people seeking to lower their LDL cholesterol are also watching their weight and are therefore also avoiding high fat foods.
"There is a need to develop cholesterol-lowering ingredients that can be added to low-fat systems. We have produced a range of different technologies for different applications," Dr Jones told NutraIngredients.com.
The range, available for some months but being promoted heavily at Vitafoods this week, includes CardioAid-GA, a combination of sterol esters with gum Arabic that allows the esters to be added to low-fat beverages sold in large volumes, such as milk.
The CardioAid-WD uses a different technology - sucrose esters of fatty acids - which makes the ingredient suitable for dairy applications or powders requiring a higher concentration of sterols, at around 50 per cent.
A number of new foods containing plant sterols have been launched on the European market this year, thanks to a wave of regulatory approvals. However regulatory authorities have not yet given their approval to ADM's application for use of sterols in soft drinks, submitted in 2001, and now also sought by Coca-Cola. It wants to expand its cholesterol-lowering Minute Maid available in the US to Europe.
"This is a disincentive for people to make new novel food applications if they think approval could be seven years down the line," noted Dr Jones.
In addition, the short supply of non-GMO soya is also restricting growth. Sterols are a byproduct of the vegetable oil industry where numerous plant sources - soya, sunflower, rapeseed - are not separated by processors and rarely traced from their source.
"A number of companies are not launching products because there is no guarantee of non-GM source material and they do not want to take the risk," suggested Dr Jones.
ADM is expected to have some non-GM material available by the summer.
There is also a large amount of intellectual property on sterol-containing foods that raises barriers for new product development. Food manufacturers have to look at the patents available, covering the process, use and composition of sterol containing foods, before entering this category.
"There are literally thousands of patents on sterols," explained Dr Jones.
New IP material could therefore help speed up the growth curve in this category, forecast by Frost & Sullivan for double-digit growth in the coming years.