Functionality has never been so exciting, with Benecol fighting off Flora Pro-activ, and the arrival of Calvia, says Sean McAllister
Consumers are beginning to digest terms such as the cholesterol-reducing ingredient plant stanol ester, and contemplate spreading it on their toast. And they are beginning to change the yellow fats market too.
Traditionally, sunflower and low fat spreads have been seen as the healthier alternative, but their sales are declining and there is now a new health arena for spreads that includes functional, dairy-free and organic spreads.
Benecol was the first to market a functional spread using the cholesterol-busting ingredient in 1999, but Flora made the biggest splash when it launched its own plant stanol ester spread, Flora Pro-activ, in August 2000. In just two years Flora Pro-activ has grown to be worth £40.1m in the UK, up 19% in the year to date, and outsells its rival by three to one, according to Flora.
"We're delighted with the continuing success and growth of Flora Pro-activ," says Jonathan Bedford, category manager at Unilever Bestfoods UK. "Levels of awareness surrounding the issue of maintaining healthy cholesterol levels are still very low. So there is clearly a big education job still to be done and plenty of opportunity for further growth."
The success has been due in part to a £2m marketing campaign that used England's 1966 football World Cup winning team for national press and radio ads, an on-pack promotion and extensive instore support during the 2002 World Cup. "The '66 activity was hugely successful. Flora Pro-activ's brand value share peaked during the promotion at 6.3% and it raised awareness of the issues surrounding cholesterol," says Bedford.
McNeil Consumer Nutritionals' Benecol fought back by launching an olive oil spread last year. This year it redesigned its packaging and logo to make it easier to identify in store.
Matthews Foods entered the functional market in February with the launch of a calcium-enriched spread, Calvia. "The key to the success of all functional foods is to raise awareness and understanding of the benefit," says Dave Coulson, marketing director for Matthews Foods.
The spreads are benefiting the yellow fats market by encouraging repeat purchase, because consumers need to eat the products on a regular basis to obtain the health benefit. They also help to compensate for declining volume sales in the category due to premium prices.
Another success from the Matthews Foods stable is Pure ­ a dairy-free spread that dominates the dairy-free sector with an 81% share. It is currently being given a major make-over as free-from' health benefits are increasing appeal in this arena."Healthy living is now also about being free from additives and preservatives," says Coulson.