The market for functional cheese in Britain may grow in the long term but is expected to stay "very niche for quite a while", according to David Bird, a food and drink industry analyst at Mintel. His comments followed a cheese industry summit in the UK last week aimed at addressing barriers and growth opportunities in the sector. According to a survey released by summit host and industry association, Dairy UK, many of those attending said added value and functional product development were priority areas for research funding, But progress in functional categories may be hindered by cheese's unhealthy public image. It was recently included in a ban on 'junk food' television adverts aimed at children. "Many consumers accept that cheese is not particularly healthy, so to make a functional claim may undermine why people buy it in the first place," said Bird. "The market (for functional cheese) is small and growing, but I'm not sure it will take off in a big way." He said consumers viewed cheese as a treat, and that producers would be better off attempting to push premium ranges that emphasise heritage and regionality. Functional dairy innovation has leant itself much more readily to yoghurt and milk drinks over the last few years, led by new 'blockbuster' brands like Danone's Actimel. But cheese, seen as an equally important added value market for European dairy firms, has been slower to catch on in the functional zone. UK firm Butlers launched Britain's first probiotic cheese last summer. Sold by the supermarket Asda, it contains LAFTI probiotics and has the fat content of a normal Lancashire cheese, around 31 per cent. Studies have shown that probiotic cultures can improve gut health. However, other UK producers have so far failed to follow Butlers' lead.