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‘Healthy food’ trend moving centre stage

The push toward healthier eating continues apace with several major food companies going beyond the establishment of ?lesser evil? lines and declaring nutrient profiles the central tenet of their future business strategies.

Unilever slashes sugar from its Slim-Fast range and declares more changes to come. Heinz cuts salt from its famous sauces. Pepsi launches an on-label scheme to alert consumers to its healthiest offerings as its chief innovations officer, Brock Leach, told New Nutrition Business: ?Wellness will be to the food industry what convenience was over the last 15 years.?

Recently, ConAgra Foods declared it was removing trans fats from many of its products including all of its spreads. Chairman and CEO Bruce Rohde said better nutrient profiling was in alignment with another of the company?s stated goals — focusing on higher-margin products.

The latest major food company to jump on the healthy food trend is General Mills, which announced it will reformulate its entire US cereal range to include significant levels of whole grains. General Mills has a one-third share of the $7.7 billion US breakfast cereal market and is a dominant cereal player in many other markets such as Europe and Australia. It is also the biggest whole-grain foods producer in the US.

In extensive taste testing the company found its new formulations were liked just as much or more by respondents, although it refuses to reveal the details of its recipe revisions. ?Intuitively, people think whole grains are healthy,? General Mills spokesman Thomas Johnson told FF&N.

?Some people might also associate whole grains with poor taste, but I think anyone who eats our whole-grain cereals or breads would appreciate how much better they taste than they may have thought. The science behind whole-grain formulation has developed significantly in recent years. There is also a very positive connection between eating whole grains every day and a reduced risk of diabetes and obesity.?

Companies like ConAgra have helped this process by developing products such as UltraGrain whole wheat flour that has many of the physical characteristics of white flour while retaining whole-grain nutritional benefits.

The General Mills move makes a lot of sense in the US market where less than 10 per cent of the population meets recommended dietary allowances for whole grain intake, and the government is calling for greater whole- grains intake. The company estimates its move will increase US whole-grain servings by 1.5 billion per year without increasing calorie intake.

Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler said in a General Mills statement: ?The improvement by General Mills will benefit Americans and could signal the most comprehensive improvement in the nation?s food supply since the government began mandatory fortification of grains in the 1940s.?

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