Animal studies have demonstrated a significant effect on blood pressure, reported the company. The results need to be confirmed by human trials but they are considered to be a breakthrough as there is only one other food marketed for its effect on blood pressure on the European market.
The Finnish company Valio launched its Evolus fermented milk on the home market in 2000, the first product to be sold in Europe with a scientifically proven health claim to control blood pressure. It has also licensed the technology to Mjolkursamsalan, Iceland's largest dairy company and some further licensing agreements are underway, according to Esa Laurinsilta, technology licensing manager at Valio.
Foods that 'can help control blood pressure', the health claim used by Valio, present a significant opportunity for the dairy industry. About two thirds of strokes and half the incidence of heart disease are attributable to raised blood pressure, according to the World Health Organisation.
Worldwide, high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.1 million deaths, about 13 per cent of the total and about 4.4 per cent of the total chronic disease burden. There are, by a conservative estimate, at least 600 million hypertension sufferers.
Chr Hansen, which has been working on its new bacteria, named Cardi-04, for three years, will be looking to expand its portfolio of added value bacteria. Currently the world's largest supplier of probiotics to the food industry, Chr Hansen is seeing increasing competition in the field. It is also expecting some of its customers, the bigger dairy companies, to move to production of probiotics in-house.
"We believe some of our major customers are investing in research, which suggests they may be interested in producing probiotics in the future," Peter Olesen, chief science officer at Chr Hansen, told NutraIngredients.com.
He added that the patent-pending Cardi-04 bacteria would offer higher value than the current probiotics.
"We think it has a higher value as it works specifically on today's lifestyle diseases rather than the more generic functionality of probiotics on improving the gut flora."
The first food products containing Cardi-04 are expected to be available on supermarket shelves within a couple of years. By then, Valio will have strengthened its position in Europe but rolling the product out across the region is proving to be slow, hindered by different regulatory requirements in each market as well as its novelty and issues on how to market the product, Laurinsilta told NutraIngredients.com.
"We hope that it will offer higher value but it is too early to say. We don't really have consumer feedback yet," he said.
If Europe follows the more established Japanese market however, blood pressure lowering foods appear to offer good potential. Calpis, a Japanese company manufacturing a fermented milk of the same name, is one of the top ten functional food companies in that market with 2003 sales of $1 billion.
More information on the science behind Chr Hansen's ingredient is available on its website.