How Benecol® was invented

In the 1970's, the Finnish government turned its attention to the poor health of many of its people. A ground-breaking health intervention, the North Karelia Project, worked with health professionals, the public, food manufacturers and other organisations to change lifestyle choices. Its bold aim was to improve public health - especially through preventative measures. High cholesterol was amongst the issues considered, as it was already recognised as one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

There was a suggestion that special cholesterol lowering foods could be made, using naturally occurring plant sterols. So, led by researcher Ingmar Wester at Raisio, an expert team was assembled to create the first of these foods.

But there was a considerable technical roadblock. Although it was already known that sterols could lower cholesterol there were no suitable methods for including the ingredient in food.

One day in 1989, as Ingmar played at home with his young daughter, an idea gripped him, and he raced back to the lab. After years of research, he had suddenly worked out how to create plant stanol ester, an evolved version of plant sterols. Ingmar's innovation enabled plant stanols to be put into foods - for the first time - without compromising taste and effectiveness. It's important to remember that although plant stanols occur naturally in fruit and vegetables, the amount you would need to eat to get any benefit is huge. With Ingmar's new process, higher concentrations could be included, enabling us all to enjoy the benefits much more easily.

Finding a way of producing great tasting foods which actively lower cholesterol, the experts became excited. Benecol represented an entirely new category of foods and a solution to the challenge!

Clinical studies confirming the effect of plant stanol ester were first published in 1992. Already holding more than half of the Finnish margarine market, Raisio saw an opportunity. By 1995, Benecol margarine - the first product of its kind in the world - was launched.