Currently cereal products make up 46 per cent of the functional foods carrying heart health claims in the US, Japan, Australia and five major European markets, reveals Leatherhead Food in a new report out this week.
This is largely down to their high fibre content, with established, global brands successfully repositioning their products to market the benefits of wholegrains and fibre.
"The Shredded Wheat brand in the UK, in particular, has been revitalised by the use of this new positioning, and sales have risen strongly since the new packaging and promotional activity was introduced in 2000," comments the report.
However compared to the relatively stable growth in cereals, other sectors like dairy are seeing much more new product development, with phytosterols and phytostanols leading to a number of new cholesterol-lowering foods.
And while foods to lower cholesterol reduction continue to dominate in terms of new launches, increased interest in other areas, such as those that tackle high blood pressure using bioactive peptides, will also significantly increase the dairy sector's share of the heart health market.
Currently the main heart health ingredients being used in this $3.6 billion market tend to be those where scientific evidence of their efficacy is strongest, such as soya, omega-3 fatty acids, phytosterols, fibre, vitamins C and E, folic acid and potassium.
But new ingredients - such as carotenoids, B vitamins, garlic, polyphenols and magnesium - will increasingly be used, especially if they are backed by further research.
Meanwhile less well-proven ingredients that "definitely need additional research" include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), plant lignans, rice bran oil, co-enzyme Q10 and betaine, according to the report.
But while the need for foods to protect heart health is certainly present in Europe - cardiovascular disease is responsible for 38 per cent of deaths in men and 41 per cent of deaths in women - the report also underlines barriers to growth that have resulted in a highly fragmented market.
These include the huge investment in products and marketing, which has often restricted access to the major multinationals, and strict regulations on health claims.
But regulatory changes, under discussion in Europe, and evolving in other markets too, will help speed up new product introductions.
"Using recent patent activity as a guide to future trends, it is clear that phytosterols and phytostanols remain a particularly active area, with emphasis on wider applicability so that they can be incorporated into a wider range of products, particularly into drinks," suggests the report.
Patents on compounds derived from fruit and vegetables is also currently increasing and likely to escalate, according to the authors, while the use of soluble fibres used for cholesterol-lowering is set to expand too.
Growth since 2000 appears to have been around 30 per cent in the heart-benefit market overall, including relatively static sales in the cereal products sector and dynamic growth in fats and oils of more than 200 per cent. The much smaller dairy products market, worth around 6 per cent of heart health sales today, is growing at about 700 per cent, albeit from a small base.
It is likely that sales will rise nearly 60 per cent over the 2004-2009 period to reach nearly $5.7 billion by 2009, predicts Leatherhead.
Readers interested in purchasing 'The Market for Heart Benefit Foods - An International Analysis', can contact Leatherhead.