We all know that eating a healthy balanced diet is good for us, and thanks to the proliferation of pro-health messages in the media, workplace, schools and now stores, as a nation we increasingly have health on the brain.

However, despite the fact that shoppers are clearly making healthier choices all year round (just under 70% of consumers now claim that health is a priority in their life), January and February still present the industry with a massive opportunity well, we all like the odd mince pie or three over Christmas, don't we?

"Healthy eating does undoubtedly come to the fore in consumers' minds and affect purchasing behaviour in the new year, partly to compensate for their over-indulgence at Christmas and the new year, and also as part of the round of new year's resolutions," says Müller Dairy marketing and R&D director Chris McDonough.

As a result, sales of low-fat lighter foods such as soups, baked products and fruit and vegetables sky rocket in the early part of the year.

"Healthy eating lines can see sales double in January in comparison to December," says Claire Webber, Greencore's brand manager for Weight Watchers. "On average Weight Watchers chilled prepared meals see an increase of 86%. These low-point, low-calorie meals are a great way for busy people to maintain a healthy balanced diet as people need their weight loss programmes to be as easy as possible."

But as Claire Nuttall, client director at brand consultancy Dragon Rouge, reminds us, healthy eating in the new year isn't just about ditching the fat.

"In the winter months people are also incredibly concerned about their immune systems and trying to prevent coughs, colds and flu. Vitamins and natural remedies such as fresh oranges all experience a rise in sales in these times. And with swine flu being high on people's levels of concern, we will probably see even greater efforts to prevent illness than usual."

One category that is really set to benefit from the desire to sustain optimum health and wellbeing this year is dairy, and in particular the functional yogurts sector.

Danone customer development controller Bryan Martins elaborates: "Over the course of the year we are expecting to see a real resurgence in this market. Growth had slowed as consumers got a bit confused with all the different health claims out there, from improving heart health, lowering cholesterol, to building immunity and aiding digestion.

"However, manufacturers have been working hard to make the category easier for shoppers to understand and there is now a much clearer focus."

That's great news all round, but particularly for retailers, as better educated shoppers equals more sales. And despite the fact that shoppers are clearly being more canny with their spending, they are still happy to splash out a bit extra on products that they believe offer them clear value for money.

A recent Dragon Rouge survey which looked at the impact of the recession on consumer behaviour clearly demonstrated that 'health' was not something that consumers were prepared to scrimp on, even when the purse strings were being tightened.

Müller Dairy's McDonough adds: "Premium pricing can be an issue for consumers that's why organic food has taken such a hit recently. However, if people are paying more, the product has to be noticeably better in terms of quality and/or taste, and it has to demonstrate that it is delivering real benefits."

Müller Dairy has recently stepped up its bio yogurt and natural ingredients message by re-branding the yogurt as Müller Bio Yogurt Corner. The twin-pack format is also to be being replaced by single Corner pots of the three variants another growing trend in this category as shoppers increasingly purchase single pots as convenient breakfast or lunch accompaniments.

And it's not just big name brands which are benefiting from the healthy eating push. Research also shows that consumers are increasingly linking locality with health, making locally produced food which generates fewer food miles and contains fewer additives increasingly attractive to shoppers.