Natural Foods Merchandiser

Mainstream Foods Get Health-Wise

Two multinational food producers have fired volleys in the battle to create "better-for-you" products.

General Mills said Sept. 30 it plans to convert all of its cereal production to whole grain. In addition to longtime whole-grain offerings such as Wheat Chex and Cheerios, 29 other breakfast cereals will be manufactured with whole grains, including Golden Grahams, Lucky Charms and Trix.

"When I heard this announcement, I said, 'Wow, healthy Lucky Charms. Whole grain Lucky Charms. They're magically delicious!'" said Joe Marra of The Natural Marketing Institute.

"It may be 35 years too late, but they're finally seeing the light."

In a similar vein, ConAgra Foods told its shareholders Sept. 23 that it plans to remove trans fats from as many of its products as possible. All three of its soft spread brands—Blue Bonnet, Fleischmann's and Parkay—are now made without trans fats.

ConAgra Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Rohde said a better-for-you nutrition profile would boost ConAgra's strategy to focus on higher-margin products.

The companies' motivation for the change combines the best aspects of capitalism and public service, Marra said. "It's a push vs. pull phenomenon," in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and consumer groups have been putting pressure on food manufacturers, retailers and restaurants to improve nutrition. Meanwhile, large food companies have put pressure on their ingredients suppliers to provide whole grains and monounsaturated fats at lower prices.

David Kessler, M.D., former FDA commissioner and a consultant to General Mills, said General Mills' move "could signal the most comprehensive improvement in the nation's food supply since government began mandatory fortification of grains in the 1940s." The post-war practice of fortification began as an attempt to replace nutrients that were lost when grain foods were refined.

Adding whole grains to General Mills' cereals means that Americans will eat 1.5 billion more servings of whole-grain foods each year, the Minneapolis company said.

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