While butter may be more resilient to concerns over health than other grocery products, there's little denying that better-for-you options still present a healthy opportunity for producers in a category bought into by virtually every household.

Sales of low-fat spreads are up 15.3% by value following a 1.7% fall last year, according to Kantar. The exact dynamics driving the rise in healthy options over the past year are unclear, although the rise in cost of butter and dairy-based spreads when not sold on promotion has made some specialist products more competitive.

Sales of Benecol, for example, are up 7.9% and have passed £20m [Symphony IRI] as the brand continues to attract new users with its three-strong range of spreads Olive, Buttery Taste and Light all of which contain plant stanol ester, said to block the amount of cholesterol entering the bloodstream.

"The increase in sales has been driven by an increase in the number of times shoppers are purchasing our products," explains Benecol spokeswoman Esther van Onselen. "While promotions are commonplace in the mainstream butter and spreads market, there are sub-categories of the market, such as cholesterol-lowering spreads, where there is still room for organic growth without the need for continual promotion."

Corroborating the growing demand for products which are marketed as actively improving health, Unilever points to the increased popularity of Flora pro.activ. The range contains plant sterols said to lower cholesterol and sales of pro.activ rose 4.9% in the year to February 2011 [SymphonyIRI] MAT.

"Consumers are increasingly aware of the food they eat and the health implicatiosn of a bad diet," says Unilever's Pankaj Sharma, who claims that more mainstream spreads, such as olive oil-based Bertolli and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, offer a "healthy alternative to butter".

Focus On Butters & Spreads