Unilever, Provexis collaborate for healthy products

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Unilever

The identity of the mystery multinational with which Provexis has
been exploring new formats of its Fruitflow technology is unveiled
as Unilever; and the two companies also plan to collaborate over
new IP on related products and processes.

Provexis entered into a12-month exclusivity agreement with an undisclosed major food company in July to develop a second-generation version of its Fruitflow technology, which has so far been used only in its showcase Sirco juice product in the UK. Provexis CEO Stephen Moon told FoodNavigator.com that the two companies have now moved beyond the original exploratory stage. Quantities of the ingredient are now being manufacturered for safety and efficacy tests, and the companies are seeking to set up a cost-effective supply-chain. The ingredient is based on compounds contained in the clear fraction of tomatoes that inhibit blood platelet aggregation, thereby smoothing blood flow and helping to maintain healthy circulation and heart. Provexis and Unilever have said that they will develop a second-generation concentrated format of Fruitflow for use in Unilever branded products. The original Fruitflow is a thick, sugary syrup - ideal for juice drinks like Sirco but with a strong flavour and colour that makes it unsuitable for dairy and other foods. To overcome this, a way to extract the sugar was devised, making the bioactive into a powder that is 35 per cent more concentrated so it can be used in several more application areas. Subject to technical, regulatory and economic issues, the companies plan to enter into a global licensing agreement. With an existing portfolio of heart healthy products including its Flora/Becel spreads and drinking yoghurts, the appeal of Fruitflow to the company in the current climate where health and wellness are a priority is clear. The global market for foods with heart benefit was valued in 2005 at US$4bn. Jim Busby, VP Unilever Foods R&D (spreads and cooking product category) said that pending good results of the trials and the establishment of the supply chain, the company "will seek to use this natural heart healthy ingredient in our global foods portfolio".​ Under the collaboration agreement and any subsequent licence agreement, Unilever will gain the rights to the Fruitflow for certain food categories. Busby's stated area of focus notwithstanding, these categories are presently confidential. Provexis is to retain the rights for Fruitflow in drinks (except mini-drinks) containing fruit juice, products marketed for DVT, OTC medicines, medical foods, dietary supplements, and prescribed medicinal products. If it chooses, Unilever may gain rights to other of these categories on a non-exclusive basis. What is more, whether or not the present collaboration over a new Fruitflow format is successful, Unilever and Provexis has pledged to seek out new intellectual property and processes during the course of the collaboration. Moon said that that Fruitflow technology is a core area for other potential IP, as there may well be other areas beyond heart health to develop. In the event that the Fruitflow project ends is unfruitful, the IP element of the collaboration will continue for a further three years. Moon said: "Given Unilever's strong heart health brands and the potential licensing revenues flowing from a successful collaboration, this is a very important development from Provexis and one which underpins our long-term strategy of discovering, developing and licensing world-class functional and medical food technologies."​ Moon was not able to give any timeframe for the appearance of Unilever Fruitflow-containing foods on shelves. However the company said in its interim report for the six months ended September 30 2006 that, although it can realistically expect "significant licensing revenues"​ by the end of summer 2007. Last month it said it was planning to raise £2.15m (c €3.14) to help bridge the gap and to start trials on its plantain-based technology for Crohn's disease, by placing 143.32m new shares at £0.015 each.

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