Cereals and snacks are at the cutting edge of the healthy eating debate, as highlighted by this week's European Parliament Plenary vote and a high-level industry conference on meeting consumer demands.
The vote, which completes the Parliaments Second Reading of the proposedRegulation on Nutrition and Health Claims made on Foods and the proposedRegulation on the Addition of Vitamins and Minerals to Foods (Fortification), will affect the way in which these sectors formulate and market their products.
The measures have been welcomed by the European Breakfast Cereal Association (CEEREAL) - indicating members have already accepted that the food sector must adapt to new consumer and legislative demands.
"CEEREAL would like to congratulate parliament on its vote," said Phil Ruebotham, president of CEEREAL.
"This compromise is a winwin for European consumers and industry."
Ruebotham was pleased that parliament members supported a compromise package on nutrient profiles, the approval procedure and the trademark issue. CEEREAL fully supports parliament's final position on fortification, which is based on safety.
"CEEREAL looks forward to the rapid adoption and entry into force of these regulations to allow its members to play an active role in ensuring a better understanding of nutrition and health claims and establishing a harmonised, safety-based criteria for fortification of their products," he said.
These issues were also touched upon at this week's Health & Pleasure seminar held by French cereal ingredients giant Limagrain at its headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand. For two days, delegates from across the globe discussed ways in which the cereal and snack industries could meet consumer expectations for tasty - but healthy - food.
"The perception of savoury snacks is that they are high in calories, fat and salt," said Lisa Kretschmann, scientific and regulatory affairs manager of the European snack association.
"Obesity is high on the political agenda, and there is pressure from WHO, the EU, NGOs and industry at the national level."
Kretschmann told delegates that all these pressure were forcing the industry to reformulate, and she stressed the fact that the industry has been very active in meeting these demands.
"We are doing something, but this is also an education issue,"she said.
But while this is true, the snack industry also has an opportunity to address the issues of obesity and poor diet in a positive manner. After all, cereal, as a raw material, is a healthy commodity.
"Cereals fit into this picture by being a good source of carbohydrate, and also by being a good source of many micronutrients," said Dr Veronique Braesco from the Auvergne Human Nutrition Research Centre.
"Cereal-based foods can contribute to many dietary requirements including fibre intake, vitamins such as B1, minerals such as copper and zinc and also microconstituents such as polyphenols. The problem is that the more the flour is refined, the more nutrients are removed."
As such, nutritional quality is crucial. "There is therefore a tremendous opportunity for cereals to provide a key role in providing a healthy diet," said Braesco. "The point is not to jeopardise this potential."
Patricia Panel, marketing manager for snacks at Limagrain, said one approach has been to merge the cereal and snack sectors. Kellogg has pursed this strategy with the launch of its Special K Lite Bites product, while Quaker recently launched its Snack a Jack range in the UK.
Food makers are realising that there is a market for cereal-based healthy snacks.
"These are new market opportunities," she said. "We are currently working on three big subjects - wholegrain pellets low in salt, high protein pellets and multi-wholegrain pellets."