Cognis adds free sterols and non-GMO alternatives to Vegapure line

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Cognis Health & Nutrition has added free sterols to its
Vegapure family which, until now, has consisted only of sterol
esters - an extension which will facilitate its use in more
functional food products and tablets.

Vegapure FS is a free sterol ground powder. Sterols and sterol esters have been shown to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, but sterols esterified to fatty acids are more fat soluble than free-sterols, meaning that they can be more easily incorporated into edible fats and oils.

However while sterol esters are oils, free sterols come in a fine powder form. There are therefore some formulations for which free sterols are more suitable than sterol esters - in particular tablets.

Vegapure marketing manager Laura Troha explained to the decision behind the new ingredient: "There is a major opportunity in tabletting in the US, and we wanted to be able to tap that market."

Traditionally US consumers have shown a preference for dietary supplements over functional foods, whereas there is more awareness of functional foods in Europe.

But Troha believes there is a trade off. "The EU is opening up for straight sterols in supplement form,"​ she said, "and it is just a matter of time before the US consumer is as educated in the efficacy of sterols in functional foods."

In the functional foods arena, Vegapure sterols and sterol esters can be used in vegetable oil spreads, salad dressings, bars, white bread products, cereals and dairy products.

Vegapure FS is also available in a non-GM version, and the company is introducing non-GM versions of Vegapure 95 sterol ester oil for soft gels and functional foods, and Vegapure 67 WDP sterol ester water-dispersible powder for two-piece hard shells and functional foods.

The company said that the non-GM alternatives were developed in response to increasing regulatory requirements worldwide.

Awareness of the cholesterol-lowering ability of plant sterols was given a boost in 2000, when the FDA issued an interim final rule a health claim linking plant sterol and stanol esters to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease when consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This was extended to free sterols and stanols in 2003.

"Sterols could be the most important ingredients this decade,"​ said Troha.

Cognis is seeking to build on existing awareness with the launch of its co-branding name Heart Choice, which will appear on the packaging of products containing Vegapure from February.

In a recent survey, 4 percent respondents drawn from the general population said they have high cholesterol, 12 percent said they were borderline, and 37 percent say they are actively controlling their cholesterol.

Of all of these so-called 'active cholesterol managers', 62 percent are seeking to prevent high cholesterol. "We have an opportunity to speak to this group of consumers,"​ said Troha.

She drew on the success that Cognis has seen with its Tonalin CLA brand for body composition over the past year. The company said that sales of products containing the branded ingredient were up 29.1 for the 12 months ended September 5, compared to the previous year. The category as a whole was up 10 percent, but non-Tonalin ingredients actually fell by 7.8 percent.

"We want to bring this success to the heart model,"​ she said.

In July Cognis announced the opening of a new €20 million ($25 million) plant sterols and CLA production facility at its Nutrition & Health Competence Center in Illertissen, Germany. The move was said to be the greatest single investment Cognis has made since it was founded in 1999.

Troha declines to reveal the total sterol capacity the company now has, but said: "Supply is not an issue"​.

According to Frost & Sullivan Cognis is the world's largest supplier of plant sterols and held almost 50 per cent of the $75 million European market in 2003.

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