Unilever's cholesterol lowering spread Flora Pro-activ is poised to go head to head with Benecol in the flourishing functional food market, following EU authorisation. The spread is made with natural plant sterols ­ plant extracts found at low levels in fruit and vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and grains. These are said to reduce cholesterol dramatically. Unilever said clinical trials showed that eating 20g of Pro-activ per day lowered "bad" cholesterol by 10-15% in three weeks. A 10% reduction halves the risk of heart disease in 40 year old males. Flora Pro-activ will be marketed in the UK and other European countries as soon as launch plans can be finalised. Flora Pro-activ has been available in the US since last April under the name Take Control, and is also available in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Brazil. In January Unilever said that, once approved, Flora Pro-activ would be competitively priced. Benecol's rsp is around four times that of standard spreads. The McNeil Industries' brand brought functional food into the mainstream market when it was launched last year. Initial sales boded well, but retailers have been sceptical about Benecol's long-term success because of its price point. The £300m UK functional food is set to become increasingly competitive and strong growth is expected. Retailers agree demand is increasing. {{P&P }}