Healthier Products Abound at 2006 FMI Show

June 1, 2006
The FMI show proved food processors are trying their best to formulate with the Dietary Guidelines in mind.

It's been 17 months since the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans were handed down by USDA and the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Just about the right amount of time for assessing how (or if) food processors are using the guidelines in their product development efforts.

If there was any doubt food processors were responding to that nutrition call and taking the obesity crisis seriously, all it took for reassurance was a trip to the Food Marketing Institute show in May. I was truly impressed.

In booth after booth at the huge grocery store show, food processors were handing out whole-grain this and fruit- and vegetable-fortified that. All of it without a trace of trans fatty acids, and many items either reduced in calories or packaged in portion-controlled packs.

From the big guys - including Kraft, who apparently invented the 100-calorie packs - to smaller companies such as Mission Foods, which introduced multi-grain and whole-wheat tortillas, food processors are implementing the government's healthier eating initiative and spreading the gospel of wise choices.

A couple of examples:

ConAgra was following the new initiatives in products from a number of divisions and brand names. With a little tweaking, both the Banquet and new Marie Callender Crock-Pot dinners include a full serving of vegetables. We've done much writing about ConAgra's Ultragrain flour, the industrial ingredient that looks and feels like white flour but is actually whole grain. In the coming months, ConAgra will be releasing it in consumer 5-lb. sacks under the Healthy Choice brand. Stroke of genius! Now consumers can cook and bake with whole-grain goodness. In fact, ConAgra was sampling chocolate chip cookies and pancakes made with the consumer mix of Ultragrain (and they were delicious).

Sun Chips, from Pepsico's Frito-Lay division already were multigrain. Now they're "made with whole grain." And while it's not touted on the bag, new Tostitos Sensations are made from whole white corn.

Kraft, which has been working whole grains into Newtons, Post cereals and other former Nabisco products, showed off its DiGiorno Harvest Wheat Crust pizza, new 100-calorie packs from several brands as well as several 100 percent whole-grain versions of well-known crackers and cookies.

Campbell Soup already has been getting a lot of mileage out if its decision to lower the sodium in its soups, a reformulation process still under way. Sea salt is the key ingredient, giving the soups the punch of regular salt levels but imparting less sodium. Campbell's Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, months back reformulated to whole grain, are now available in 100-calorie pouches

Speaking of reformulating soups, General Mills also will be rolling out reduced-sodium versions of Progresso soups shortly. General Mills beat the 2005 Dietary Guidelines by reformulating its cereals for whole grains. Last month it unveiled Oatmeal Crisp cereal, which carries enough whole grain, fiber and oatmeal ingredients to carry health claims for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Also new is Green Giant Just for One microwavable single-servings of vegetables. Even Simply Chex mix, a baked not fried version of the snack, is a "good source of whole grain."

Those are some of the big guys. There were numerous smaller operations staking their claim on healthier foods. Goody2Chews Foods Inc. created candy-bar like snacks that use dates, raisins, almonds, cranberries (lots of fiber) and whey protein. And they're covered in coatings that look and taste like chocolate and caramel (there's also a yogurt variety), but they're much healthier. Snikiddy LLC combines organic, sustainable agriculture and whole grain hot buttons in its Snikiddy Snacks (PizzaPiePuffs, Chocolate Chippers and Banana Nibbles).

No one can say food processors are not trying to follow the Dietary Guidelines and to create healthier foods. Most of these products also are aimed at the problem of obesity. The question, as always, is: Will consumers buy these healthy new products?

Kudos to all you processors for trying. I hope to see these products and their second-generation variations at next year's FMI show.

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