Benecol taps health-conscious Indians

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Atherosclerosis

Raisio, the Finnish-based manufacturer of the cholesterol-lowering
ingredient Benecol has made its first foray into Asia by inking a
deal to supply Benecol to an Indian supplements manufacturer and
distributor, British Biologicals.

British Biologicals hopes the new stanol supplement, Colred-Benecol, will appeal to India's increasingly health-conscious middle class, highlighting a potential new area of development for supplement makers. This group, like its western counterparts, has also, contrarily, developed a taste for high-fat, sugar and salt convenience foods. Raisio communications manager Heidi Hirvonen told its own on-the-ground research in India demonstrated rates of cardiovascular disease were increasing rapidly among wealthy city dwellers. "LDL cholesterol levels are rising so fast in India it is scary,"​ she said. "This is especially so among young people. We think it is the right time to launch a product like this and are confident it will perform well especially as Colred-Benecol is the first product in India in any category to make a cholesterol-lowering claim."​ British Biologicals, established in Mumbai in 1988, will distribute the product in 20,000 outlets including pharmacies, health food stores, supermarkets and general stores in major Indian cities. "Experience in Europe has shown that the first player on the market creates a whole new category and often achieves a significant market position,"​ said Raisio CEO Matti Rihko. Raisio's move comes amid a difficult period that has seen sales fall in its ingredient division that is dominated by Benecol. Sales of Benecol end-products that include yoghurts, yoghurt drinks and spreads have also registered only marginal growth in many European markets and been disappointing in North America. Hirvonen said Benecol and British Biologicals had worked for many months with the Indian Health Department to have the claim approved and hoped to launch similar products making similar claims in other Asian countries including China in the near future. "We are also negotiating with food companies in India and other countries with the aim of developing new Benecol-fortified foods,"​ she said. "Benecol is a flexible ingredient and can be formulated into many food categories so we are exploring this with local cuisine in mind. Perhaps a Benecol-fortified naan bread is possible. Why not?" ​Colred-Benecol, which is being sold in powder form to be mixed with milk or water by purchasers, has been backed by an extensive campaign to educate Indian health professionals with British Biologicals introducing the product to 15,000 doctors and seminars held for medical workers and opinion leaders. "We expect that a large proportion of sales will be driven by the medical profession,"​ Hirvonen said. Raisio may not be the last company to push into developing markets as European and North American markets for stanol/sterol functional foods have been stalling for some years. They have struggled to compete with the popularity of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. 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 despite a Food and Drug Administration-approved cholesterol-lowering health claim.

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