In its first report on heart benefit foods since 2004 Leatherhead said the sector has at least doubled in size over the past five years. It put the combined size of the leading five European markets and the US, Japan and Australia at $10.84bn, a figure that adds up to 0.5 percent of the overall food market.
These figures were reached using a fairly strict definition of heart health products as food and drinks that tend to make specific heart health claims on packaging or promotional material.
Looking among the leading markets, the US is the dominant country with a 66.2 percent share. Growth in the country has come largely from the bakery and cereal side of the food industry where heart health claims have been widely attached to wholegrains.
Cheerios, for example, have been repositioned to emphasis and wholegrain content and related heart health benefits.
Another key driver for growth in the US has been approvals from the FDA for claims linked to ingredients such as soya protein, phytosterols, wholegrains and oats. But, the FDA review of the soya protein has held back the development of that market.
Unpredictability related to future regulations is one the main reasons why Leatherhead was reticent to give firm guidance for future global growth. Barring no radical changes, the research company said the heart health market should grow at least 40 percent between 2009 and 2014 but could well be more like 25 percent if the claims situation becomes unfavorable.
In Europe the market size and structure could change radically depending on the outcome of EFSA health claim judgments, said Leatherhead.
Heart health claims have become a part of the food landscape in Europe but the focus is on oils and fats, and the dairy sector rather than bakery and cereal products.
The UK leads the way an 11.1 percent share of the total market surveyed while Spain has been the biggest grower over the past five years. Leatherhead said the country now has a 5 percent share compared to 1 percent in 2004, thanks largely to strong growth in the heart health dairy sector.
In France and the UK where oil and fats have been the main flag bearers of heart health claims popular brands have been diversified to achieve growth. For example, Unilever has expanded its famous Flora spread brand into dairy under the Flora pro.activ sub brand.