There may have been a glut of health-orientated NPD in the butter & spreads category in 2012 - Lurpak Lightest and Clover Seedburst to name but two - but sales in the sub-category are anything but healthy. Value sales of diet spreads are down 4.1% on volumes down 1.3%, and value sales of cholesterol-lowering options are down 3.9% on volumes down 2.4% [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 14 April 2013].

“Consumers don’t necessarily deem low fat as a healthy option if it’s packed full of e-numbers, additives, preservatives and stabilisers, as is often the case with ‘healthy’ spreads,” says Stuart Ibberson, business unit director at Arla Foods, whose brands include Anchor and Lurpak. “Consumers are taking a more universal view of health rather than just counting calories or looking at the satfat content.”

Consumers are also sticking to what they know best rather than trying new, unknown lines. “As rules around functional claims become stricter, brands are being cautious in how they are talking to their customers,” says Adam Mehegan, senior shopper marketing manager at Dairy Crest. “Consumers are sticking to benefits they know and understand, and although functional foods as a whole are doing well, there are still barriers, and products will continue to compete with naturally nutritious products that are often cheaper.”

The key to reversing the decline of ‘healthy’ offerings could be improving taste. “Stocking low-calorie products that don’t compromise on taste will help unlock sales,” says Adrian Adams, senior category manager for chilled food at Unilever, whose brands include Flora. “There is a clear opportunity for the category to maximise sales through tasty product innovation and improved shopper education on how they can better manage their family’s health.”

But the sub-category isn’t proving a tough market for everyone. Arla Foods says its Lurpak Lightest Spreadable range is now worth £11.5m in value in 18 months of sale, a figure boosted by the launch of a new 250g format in April 2012, which has added £1.3m in value. “The product responds perfectly to the growing demand for healthier products, targeting households with a tasty, natural and low-fat spreadable to use in the kitchen,” says Ibberson.