UK sterol foods market slows amid consumer confusion

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cholesterol

Consumer confusion and increased competition from other functional
food categories like probiotics has stalled growth of the
cholesterol-lowering, sterol-fortified foods and beverages market
in the UK.

Market figures compiled by from reliable sources indicate an overall slide in the three categories operated in by the two main players - Unilever's Pro.activ and McNeill Nutritional's Benecol. In the three categories - spreads, one-shot yoghurt drinks and yoghurts - only Benecol one-shot yoghurt drinks maintained its sales level between 2006 to 2007, registering €36m for both years. Sales dropped for Benecol's spreads and yoghurts as well as all Pro.activ offerings. Go to the stats ​However, Trevor Gorin, the head of Unilever PLC & UK Media Relations, disputed a recent story that implied Pro.activ had lost its lead in the overall UK sterols market when in fact it was only in one-shot drinks that Pro.activ sales were outgunned by Benecol. In this category Benecol notched €36m compared to €14.3m for Pro.activ. Another player in this area, Danone's Danacol has been withdrawn from the market by its French parent. Pro.activ one-shot drinks had also been removed from the Spanish market in January this year and Gorin said the brand would be undergoing a UK marketing makeover at some point this year. Unilever can claim the total UK sales crown with figures indicating Pro.activ's market share equates to about €84m in the UK, with Benecol at €66m. But Pro.activ's sales have fallen more quickly, a 16 per cent decline from €98m in 2006. Benecol's sales have held fairly steady, dropping only 3.7 per cent from €69m in 2006. Confusion, congestion ​Both Gorin and Benecol vice president of ingredients, Vincent Poujardieu, cited consumer confusion and increased competition from other healthy offerings such as probiotics and whole grains like oats as major reasons for the market slow down. "The chief element that we've seen in the UK market has been that of growing consumer confusion about cholesterol-lowering products over the last 18 months or so,"​ Gorin said. "For example we have seen a lot of switching to oats because GPs are recommending them as a cholesterol-lowering food."​ He added: "Confusion is also caused by foods claiming '0% cholesterol' or 'cholesterol free' - so consumers no longer see the difference between something that isn't making your LDL cholesterol worse, versus a product like Pro.activ that is actually lowering it."​ Poujardieu said the crowding of the little bottle market with the likes of Actimel and Yakult was stretching consumer resources and also causing confusion about which products delivered which benefits, despite the fact Benecol had held its own in this category. One industry source said another factor that had contributed to Pro.activ's decline was consumers shifting from Flora Pro.activ to regular Flora products. Benecol's ability to sustain its UK sales level was due to "serious positioning and its appeal to the most health-conscious niche",​ wrote New Nutriton Business​ magazine recently. Figures to the middle of last year show global Benecol sales at €197.3m with Flora Pro.activ at €546m.

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