Benecol is the latest player to venture into the growing soya and fruit drink sector, marking the healthy heart brand's first move away from dairy.

Benecol Tropical Fruit & Soya Drink is described as a "deliciously smooth-tasting exotic cholesterol-lowering blend that is totally free from dairy".

The drink, which contains only 30 calories and is low in saturated fat, was designed for the seven million-plus people in the UK who are lactose-intolerant or avoid dairy for ethical or health reasons, said the company.

"It was important to ensure that our unique cholesterol-lowering products were available to everyone, as anyone, whatever their dietary choices, can suffer from raised cholesterol levels," said a spokeswoman. "Dairy- free doesn't mean a compromise on taste. We've worked to produce a taste that everyone can enjoy."

Over the last year the strong growth in sales for juices and soya products has led to the emergence of soya and fruit juice blended drinks, driven by ongoing health trends.

Unilever introduced its Adez brand to the UK market last year and in May announced a £3m investment for the brand. At the start of this year the brand was already worth £6.9m, according to Nielsen (MAT w/e 30 December 2006).

In January Soya Health Foods launched a competitor to Adez with its Sunrise Healthy Start fruit juice and soya brand. The company has added new flavours and a 250ml impulse format.

The two have flagged up their products' health benefits and cholesterol-lowering qualities, but Benecol's history in this field should make it the forerunner.

Benecol's range contains the active ingredient plant stanol ester, clinically proven to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) by up to 14% in more than 30 scientific studies, according to the British Medical Journal.

One bottle of the soya and fruit drink with a meal is enough to lower cholesterol and help maintain a healthy heart. The Benecol range, launched in the UK in 1999 after its success in Finland, includes yoghurts, yoghurt drinks and spreads.