Leatherhead Foods predicts that sales of heart health foods will rise nearly 60 per cent over the 2004-2009 period to reach nearly $5.7 billion by 2009. Although it said in its recent "Heart Benefit Foods" report that, until now, juice drinks have tended to have a general health positioning due to their antioxidant content, there are signs that this may be about to change.
Sirco hit supermarket shelves this month, bearing the claim that it 'helps to maintain a healthy heart and benefits circulation'. This initially was in 211 Sainsbury's stores, with 100 stores of another chain will start selling it at the end of January. Now Provexis has announced that distribution will be much higher than expected - 500 stores in total by the end of February - as a third, as yet undisclosed, supermarket chain has agreed to stock the blueberry and apple variety.
Although marketing will be aggressive, to some extent the way has already been prepared for Sirco by other juice products marketed for heart health, which saw remarkable success last year.
Pomegreat pomegranate juice, for instance, which like Sirco is approved by the charity Heart UK, saw sales increase ten-fold, to 500,000 litres a month, from mid-2004 to mid-2005.
There are indications, too, that these could soon be joined by other products in the juice category with evidence to support their heart health benefits.
Certainly the Coco Cola Company is expected to expand its Minute Maid juice line in the UK, introduced in June 2005, with a product enriched with plant sterols. The company has received initial approval from the UK's novel foods committee, and Minute Maid HeartWise has already proved a bit with US consumers.
What is more, researchers at Dundee University are currently looking for volunteers to take part in a study to investigate the palatability and effect on blood vessels of a supplementary juice product made from blackcurrants and blueberries, which is high in antioxidants and vitamin C.
The study, sponsored by the juice manufacturer, will involve 60 participants who do not normally include fruit and vegetables in their diet. Apart from taking the juice, they will maintain their normal eating habits throughout the course of the study.
Lead researcher Dr Dean Patterson told NutraIngredients.com that the product is not currently on the market, but the study is the first stage in seeing whether consumers will be willing to take the product, and whether it could benefit the cardiovascular system.
The design of the study means that it will be impossible to look at long term effects of juice consumption on heart health, but Dr Patterson said that his team will run a gamut of tests to investigate the immediate effects on the endothelium, or lining of the blood vessels, which has a number of important roles including control of blood pressure, coagulation, and atherosclerosis.
But palatability is also vital to the success of any new product. The makers of Pomegreat attribute the product's success largely to its taste and if the juice on trial is aimed at people who are used to a diet informed by sensory perceptions rather than nutritional value this will be more crucial than ever.
"To change a person's diet is rather difficult," he said. "People may be more inclined to take a juice product than they are to eat fruit and vegetables."
Dr Patterson stressed, however, that the juice should not be seen as an excuse for not eating fruit and veg. The best course of action is to follow recommendations to eat at least five portions day, which has other health and nutrition benefits and helps ensure a balances intake of vitamins.
According to the British Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease (such as coronary heart disease and stroke) is the most common cause of death in the UK, accounting for just under 238,000 deaths in 2002.