With sales of functional food and drinks increasing across Europe, sausage skin maker Devro and the pharmaceutical firm Alltracel have teamed up to create a food wrapping product to lower cholesterol. The partnership could find a useful niche provided that the technology is properly marketed to consumers.

The partnership between the world's leading manufacturer of sausage skins and an Irish pharmaceuticals company will develop the cholesterol product using Alltracel's m.doc (micro dispersed oxidized cellulose) powder, which has been shown to lower cholesterol in studies on mice. The two firms are now thought to be investigating ways of using the collagen films used in sausage skins to create a wrapper for the m.doc powder. The powder is already used in anti-bleeding products made by Alltracel, and it believes that the cellulose material can be adapted to produce a cholesterol-absorbent food wrapping.

Devro and Alltracel have not yet decided what form the anti-cholesterol product will take, but the thin dissolvable film could potentially be used on chewy sweets and drinks as well as meat products. It is thought the product will not be available for at least 18 months and will face lengthy clinical trials, although it will be classed as a functional food rather than a drug.

There is an inherent risk involved in the project. Currently, the sausage skins manufactured by Devro contain what is widely regarded as unhealthy fat. Therefore, consumers will face the somewhat contradictory concept of healthy eating claims on products, such as sausages or sweets, which have traditionally been perceived as precisely the opposite. 

Devro's product would be a departure from other cholesterol-reducing foods on the market - at present, these are mainly comprised of spreads such as Benecol. It is not a surprise that more and more food producers are looking to enter the functional food market, with functional food and drinks sales rising at 6.6% year on year across Europe. Consumers are increasingly looking for convenient, cost effective and tasty products that will also provide them with health benefits. Yet, as many consumers want to feel the emotional benefit of eating healthily as well as actually doing so, Devro must market this innovative technology carefully.

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