Multibene Products, a Finnish company carved out of different research organisations, is expecting to conclude further major deals with European firms over the next six months, following approval for the ingredient under novel foods regulation earlier this year.
Heart health is becoming an increasingly important target for functional foods, and a new Reuters report predicts cholesterol-lowering products to be the most profitable source of innovation for food makers in five years time.
The European phytosterol market is currently worth $75 million but is forecast to grow by 15 per cent each year, according to Frost & Sullivan, boosted by anticipated new product launches.
However there is also increasing awareness of the need for adequate calcium intake, with the World Health Organisation dubbing osteoporosis the biggest global healthcare problem.
The combination of safe and effective plant sterols, with calcium, or other minerals like potassium for blood pressure control, could prove a winning formula for food makers.
"If you look at the juice market today, many products are enriched with calcium, and it's very tempting to think about combining this with added plant sterols. This is now possible with Multibene," Heikki Karppanen, developer of the technology, told NutraIngredients.com.
This factor likely attracted General Mills, which will use the technology in breakfast cereals, cereal bars, yoghurts and soy-based drinks for the United States, Canada and Mexico.
The innovation, researched at the universities of Helsinki, Kuopio and Oulu and the National Public Health Institute in Finland, is protected by worldwide patents that cover any plant sterol-enriched foods fortified with calcium, potassium or magnesium. At the same time, foods fortified with these minerals can be enriched with plant sterols only under licence of the same Multibene patents.
The company is seeking further appropriate US license partners for use in fruit juices, ice creams, bakery and meat products, cheese, fish products, mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressings and other spicy sauces, and pizzas and other ready-to-eat meals.
In the EU, MultiBene can be added to yoghurts, cheeses, fat spreads, milk type products, mayonnaise, salad dressings, ketchup and other spicy sauces.
Multibene is in contact with US sterol suppliers for the agreement but new licensees will be involved in sourcing the raw materials. "We can recommend the best sterol source and the optimum level of mineral but the food companies will have a free choice," added Karppanen.