General Mills today (15 July) opened its first innovation centre in China and signalled its belief it could tap into demand for healthier and more convenient products in the country.

The $15m facility is the US group's "first major technical centre" outside its HQ, the company said.

The site will focus on developing products for Chinese consumers including snacks, convenient meals, yoghurt and super-premium ice cream.

"These consumers are increasingly pressed for time," Chris O'Leary, COO for General Mills' international business, said. "As a result, this emerging middle class is looking for convenient food solutions, with strong health credentials and great taste. All of which points to a huge growth opportunity for our business going forward."

General Mills described China as one of its "largest growth markets" with brands such as Wanchai Ferry dim sum, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Bugles and Trix snacks.  Constant-currency net sales for China have grown at a 15 percent compound rate over the past four years, reaching over $700m in its 2013/2014 financia year, it added. 

General Mills expects double-digit net sales growth from Greater China this fiscal year. Last week, the company announced that it will expand Haagen-Dazs' presence in China, adding 80 new shops and entering 16 new cities in China. The company also is preparing to enter the country's yoghurt category and has started construction on a new manufacturing facility in eastern China