The consumer survey carried out by the Grocery Manufacturers of America in December - and the results announced on Friday - found that Americans are buying more nutritious foods than ever before.
In a survey of primary grocery shoppers, 73 percent of respondents reported that they were buying more nutritious and healthy foods and beverages than in the past.
Products made with whole, unrefined grains topped the list of healthy products reaching the shopping basket, with 66 percent of consumers saying they bought fiber-rich food and drink.
Reduced- and low-fat offerings came a close second with 65 percent of respondents saying they filled their carts with "better for you" products; reduced and low-calorie products had just over half their votes at 54 percent, sugar-free came in with 49 percent of the vote, and reduced and low-calorie food and drinks were bottom with 42 percent.
Fortified foods were of interest to 59 percent of shoppers.
"Today, consumers know more about nutrition than ever before, and they are using that information to choose foods and beverages that meet their health goals," said Alison Kretser, senior director of scientific and nutrition policy at GMA.
GMA's survey also found that 64 percent of consumers were trying to reduce their caloric intake and 52 percent said they were exercising more often.
A study published by the Produce Marketing Association in February suggested a similar trend, asserting that consumers who were familiar with the dietary guidelines for Americans were likely to change their ways and start to take a healthier look at the food they were eating.
The updated dietary guidelines were published in January; among 41 individual recommendations, the key messages of the guidelines focused on calorie control and exercise. Consumers were encouraged to choose foods carefully in order to get the most nutrition out of calories consumed.
Foods from every food group should have a part to play in a healthy, balanced diet - in particular fiber-rich foods, vegetables and whole grains.
Productscan Online predicted towards the end of last year that fiber-enriched products could be the next big thing to hit the US food market, stating that the percentage of new food and beverage products making high fiber claims in North America has been stuck at around 2.5 percent for the past four years, but this figure had increased to 4.2 percent in 2004.
At the moment - as is generally the way with health trends - the smaller companies are leading the way with innovative new products, but the multi-nationals may not be far behind. General Mills last year launched a high-fiber cereal, Oatmeal Crisp Triple Berry, and Kellogg Canada recently paired up with George Weston Bakeries to introduce All Bran Breakfast Loaf and Two Scoops Raisin Bran Whole Wheat Breakfast Bread, two high fiber breakfast breads containing nine grams and seven grams of fiber respectively.
But it is not just the finished food product companies who are benefiting from these trends. Danisco showed that it was ahead of the pack in January when it launched a series of products aimed at helping the baking industry cope with the move towards whole grain products.
Danisco believes that the addition of whole grains, seeds, nuts and fibers challenges producers with high speed production lines, making great demands on the gluten network of the dough. This, said the company, can result in processing difficulties, poor volume and unacceptable quality.
The solution to such problems, according to Danisco, lies in improving the gluten network. It has therefore launched two products to serve this end, namely Panodan Datem and the enzyme technology, Grindamyl PowerBake.
Panodan interacts with the gluten proteins to strengthen and stabilize the dough during processing, proofing and baking and is already widely used in artisan breads, which are denser and typically contain high levels of whole grains.
Grindamyl PowerBake, on the other hand, is a xylanase that solublizes the fiber to minimize its negative effect on gluten development. Danisco believes that this product is the only xylanase on the market that is not inhibited by native proteins found in wheat and other grains.
The company added that as whole grain products are generally more expensive to produce because of the increase in ingredient costs and processing times, its technology is important in bringing improved processing ability and quality.