The ongoing debate regarding the safety of hydrogenated fats and trans fatty acids as well as saturated and unsaturated fats has caused many products to be reformulated.
Juliet Howarth from the Margarine and Spreads Association says: “MSA members are committed to reducing the level of trans fatty acids to as low as is technically possible and have been doing so for a number of years.
“They aim to produce retail spreads with a trans fatty acid level below 1%, and the majority of spreads on the market are at or below this level.”
She says trans fatty acids are found naturally in some animal-derived foods such as butter, milk and beef at levels around 3% to 6%.
Howarth says the actions of the manufacturers are having an impact, and the intake of trans fatty acids among the UK population has fallen.
She cites National Diet and Nutrition Survey statistics that show the consumption of trans fatty acids fell from 2.1% of total energy in 1995 to 1.2% in 2000. This has been mainly due to the reformulation of products such as margarine and spreads.
Natalie Mitchell, central buyer at Waitrose, says that companies may have to do more as consumer awareness of the potential dangers of trans fatty acids grows.
“Consumer awareness of trans fatty acids has increased in recent years and customers are looking for products that offer a more healthy alternative,” she says.
Belinda Linden of the British Heart Foundation says that while hydrogentated fats are stealing the headlines, the issue of saturated fats is still much more prevalent: “Reduction of saturated fats in the diet will have the main effect on lowering blood cholesterol.”
The success of the Flora Pro-activ and Benecol cholesterol-lowering products reflects consumer concern. Since the olive variant of Flora Pro-activ was launched 18 months ago, it has added 20% sales to the brand, says Unilever.
A Benecol spokesperson says: “Total penetration of all cholesterol-reducing products is 15% [ACNielsen May 16, 2005] and this clearly indicates the growth potential of cholesterol-reduction foods.”
Arran Richardson, category buyer for dairy at The Co-operative Group, says: “Flora Pro-activ and Benecol are still very much a new area to the market, and although they are specifically health products, they are continuing to grow in value and volume. This trend is set to continue as more and more advertising space and awareness are given to this area of the market.”
Olive oil spreads have grown 2% in the past year [TNS 52 w/e April 24, 2005], with Filippo Berio spread from Matthews Foods holding a 22% share. Dave Coulson, marketing director at Matthews Foods, says: “It’s been a tough year on space - consumers looking for the benefits of olive oil created a premium tier which wasn’t being satisfied. The category has plateaued as there has not been the investment.”
Another emerging sector is the ‘free from’ spreads, such as Matthews Foods’ Pure Soya, Pure Organic and Pure Sunflower spreads. Coulson says: “There is a growing need to meet dietary requirements - it’s not a huge sector, but it has a lot of potential. It is about a personal choice for general health and we’re looking to build on it.”
Consumers with special dietary requirements are also driving the sales of goats’ butter, according to St Helen’s Farm. Mike Hind, marketing director, says this is due to an awareness of consumer intolerance to cows’ milk.
“Part of our role is to ensure supermarkets see that this market continues to grow in double digits,” he says.
Jonathan Bedford, category controller at Unilever, which owns Flora and Flora Pro-activ, says consumers “are more savvy than they have been and understand more about health issues”.