Aside from its flagship margarine-style spreads and drinkable and spoonable yoghurts, the Finnish plant-based nutrition firm already has Benecol branded supplements on the market.
It said currently there were three options available to consumers – foods, soft capsules and compressed tablets – but all came with their own limitations. It said its patent for a chewable supplement could resolve some of these issues.
Spreads and yoghurts with added plant sterols and/or plant stanols required continuous refrigeration for instance.
“However, many consumers would prefer to have their daily dose of plant sterols and/or plant stanols available in a product that can be carried along wherever they go, e.g. as a dietary supplement,” Raisio wrote in the patent application.
According to 2014 Mintel data, 36% of Germans and 25% of French consumers prefer to get health benefits from vitamins and supplements rather than functional food and drink.
Senior Euromonitor International analyst Chris Schmidt added: "In addition to spreads not being terribly convenient, for me at least there’s always been a bit of a disconnect in the Benecol products. When I think of cholesterol/heart health, butter-like spreads are about the last product I think of."
Yet the category is worth about €2.5bn globally, according to Euromonitor.
Supplement alternatives are already available either as soft gelatin capsules or compressed tablets. However soft gelatin capsules were often large, causing difficulty when swallowing.
In the EU such product must deliver 1.5-2.4 g equivalents of plant sterols and/or plant stanols to bear a coronary heart disease risk reduction health claim via cholesterol reduction.
In the US products must deliver at least 0.5 g per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) for a total daily intake of 2 g plant sterols and/or plant stanols to bear the disease risk reduction health claim.
The daily needed 2 g of plant sterols and/or plant stanols can be delivered in 1-4 servings of the food or the dietary supplement.
Given the sterol – stanol content of about 1 g per capsule this meant consumers had to take several a day to get the recommended 2 g per day.
While compressed tablets were smaller, liquid was usually required to swallow the tablets which may be inconvenient and even these smaller tablets may not be possible with people with dysphagia - difficulty or discomfort in swallowing usually as a symptom of another condition.
“Thus there is a need for a new type of portable plant sterol ester and/or plant stanol ester edible products, such as dietary supplement products.
“Such products should preferably be easy to consume and be portable with the possibility of being stored at room temperatures and still have long enough shelf life in order to be commercially viable. They should also preferably have good taste.”
The firm also highlighted the need to meet the conditions of cholesterol-lowering health claims in various jurisdictions.
Benecol in a pill
Mintel research showed 18% of French, 26% of German and 24% of UK consumers used functional food or drink to help lower blood pressure or cholesterol.
This rose to 35% and 49% for French and German consumers aged over 55, respectively.
Raisio claims Benecol products accounts for about 20% of the total market of cholesterol-lowering functional foods.
Last November Raisio paid €88.4m to licensee Johnson & Johnson to bring Benecol back under its direct control in the UK, Ireland, Belgium and the US.
It is thought the move increased Raisio’s EBIT by some €9m annually.
Raisio first launched Benecol in Finland back in 1995.
In June this year the Benecol brand was launched in China in a powder form.