Product innovation, international cooperation and playing up the benefits of wholegrain in a healthy diet are highlighted as vital challenges for food processors and farmers alike in the year ahead. The claims stem from the HGCA's fourth quarter processor conference, designed to improve the connection between the arable supply chain, the food industry and consumers. To this end, the HGCA says it is already partly funding a study that focuses on spending habits of about 12m supermarket shoppers to identify core focus areas for the industry. Driving innovation in both the food and drink sectors by providing consumer insight to growers and some food companies are the main aims of the study, according to the authority. The information can detail specific target markets from buying habits and age to lifestyle of consumers to ensure that the industry is meeting its full potential. In response, the HGCA claims that the project has already created 15 new avenues for research from the cereals and oilseeds sector ranging from oat products, to bread and oil. As well as innovation, health and safety were another key highlight of the talks. Of particular concern to the HGCA is pushing the message that wholegrain use in bakery products remains a vital focus for the industry. Despite previous attempts by the group to promote whole grains on a health basis, independent research into consumer behavior found that 56 per cent of those surveyed were unaware that oatcakes contained wholegrain. Of the same group, 44 per cent were also unaware that porridge fitted the category, according to the HGCA. Despite ongoing radio campaigns throughout the year, and communication with processors about this focus, the authority added that maintaining regional funding for the focus would be vital. In regards to product safety, during July 2006, legal limits were introduced restricting mycotoxins in grain for both human consumption as well as feed grains. The HGCA said that it continued to work with growers in a bid to make sure that all grains entering the food chain complied with the new legislation. As a result of measures including a publication designed to encourage risk assessment during production had helped to ensure that UK grain remains generally with the limits, the authority claimed. Besides simply working within the UK, wider cooperation with another national grain bodies in France (Arvalis) and Australia was allowing for the industry to better deal with upcoming challenges, according to the HGCA. With growing links to environmental benefits, the increase in Biofuel demand - particularly in the US - was seen as a major challenge for grain suppliers. Authority chief executive Jonathan Cowens said that issues like biofuels were a strong example of where international cooperation could benefit the industry. "Exchanging ideas and sharing of knowledge is essential if maximum advantage is to be derived from scarce resources," he stated. The grant aided Cereals Industry Forum was a case of knowledge sharing that was helping to benefit the entire industry, Cowens added. "[The] HGCA will be reviewing all the recommendations and will establish a plan of action to disseminate best practice," he said.