According to the company, its three areas of priority are weight management, heart health and 'proactive health'. "Our mission is clear: nourishing people's lives. From this standpoint, we want to make people's lives healthier, easier and richer," said Marc Belton, executive vice president of worldwide health, brand and new business development at General Mills. The firm, a $13.4bn global packaged food leader, said its strategic advantage in the field of health and wellness is its portfolio, which is lined up against US Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines. "For us, our brands are the real relationship we have with the consumer - and it's founded on trust," maintains the firm. The major factors driving the wellness market are a growing population of aging baby boomers and an increasing consumer diversity, said Belton. The nation's changing demographics have played a key role in directing General Mills' areas of focus in order to meet consumers' health and nutrition needs. "We are focused on doing three things well in response to consumers' major health concerns: weight management, heart health and proactive health," said Belton, adding that proactive health encompasses simplicity, organics, probiotics, and omega 3. This directs the company's approach in its pursuit of meeting consumer needs while enhancing profitability, he said. General Mills focuses on six major factors for driving growth: mainstream health trends, proven brands, taste, consumer insights, novel technology and marketing. Despite the key role played by each of these, Belton stressed the importance of taste as the ultimate guiding factor for consumer acceptance of a product. "Every time we introduce a product that provides the health benefits but doesn't provide great taste, it ends up in the graveyard," he said. Another focus across the entire product portfolio of General Mills is the incorporation of a number of well recognized 'healthy' ingredients into its products. These include whole grains, probiotics, prebiotics, omega 3, and more vegetables, while at the same time reducing the salt content. The company has also followed the industry move to restrict advertising to children as a means to help combat the nation's rising childhood obesity crisis. As well as adhering to the principles of the Child Advertising Review Unit of the US Better Business Bureau, General Mills - like other leading companies - has implemented its own internal guidelines for advertising foods to children. These include not advertising any product containing more than 175 calories per serving to children 12 or under; ensuring that products containing 175 calories or fewer per serving also either meet the USDA 'healthy' criteria per labeled serving, or provide at least a half serving of a food targeted by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for increased consumption by children; and not advertising any products in programs targeting preschool children. In addition, nine years ago General Mills set up the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, designed to help in the development of innovative and nutritious food products. Going forward, Belton said the company will focus on finding ways to incorporate more fiber, whole grains and healthier fats and oils into its products. Another priority is to find ways to provide higher nutrient, lower caloric options. In the pursuit of these goals, the firm said it is interested in partnering with small firms or inventors through its Worldwide Innovation Network (WIN) program. Marc Belton was addressing attendees at the recent IFT food expo in Chicago, where he participated in the session Senior Executives Cut the Fat on Industry's Approach to Health and Wellness Foods, together with executives from Kraft, Nestle and Campbell. To read the FoodNavigator-USA.com article on Kraft, click here. To read the article on Nestle, click here. To read the article on Campbell, click here.