Israeli food manufacturers sold NIS 50.2 billion worth of food products in 2007, up 4.5 from 2006, the Manufacturers Association of Israel reported Tuesday. Local sales jumped 4% to NIS 46.8b. and exports increased 17% to $830 million, it said. Rony Kobrovsky, chairman of the Food Federation and president of Coca-Cola Israel, said he was optimistic for 2008. "We are expecting growth of some 3% in the sale of food products this year, including an expected jump of 12% in terms of exports," he said. "We think that exports of food products will reach $930m. in 2008." Food manufacturers hired some 1,800 new workers in 2007, the highest such total in 10 years and an increase of 3%, bringing the number of food manufacturing workers to 61,000, the Manufacturers Association reported. In 2007 the country's food manufacturers focused on producing healthier and more nutritious food, introducing some 2,700 new "health" products into the local market, the association said. The products added approximately NIS 300m. to the overall food market. The new products included reduced-fat and lower-cholesterol versions of established and popular items, as well as foods with less sugar, sodium and food coloring, the association said. According to the association's report, 68% of Israel's food manufacturers invested up to $300,000 in making their products healthier, 16% invested between $300,000 to $1m. and 16% invested more than $1m. The natural food market in Israel is an estimated NIS 2.5b. annually, less than 1% of the Israeli consumer's total shopping bill. Over the last few years some of the country's major food retailers have entered the health-food market. Tnuva bought Harduf, which produces organic vegetables, legumes and pasta; dairy producer Tara bought Zuriel Dairy Farm, a small operation that specializes in cheese and tofu products; and baby food maker Ma'abarot, the manufacturer of Materna, acquired Adama. Natural, or organic, food is grown without the use of chemical pesticides, artificial fertilizer, antibiotics, growth hormones or genetic engineering. No preservatives or artificial color are added during processing. Businessman Guy Provisor opened Eden Teva Market in June. At 2,780 square meters, it is said to be the largest health-food market in the Middle East. When he opened the store, Provisor said he expected to corner some 15% of the total market share for health-food items in Israel. Other major players in the natural food industry include Nitzat Haduvdevan, Organic India and Shkedia Geva Industries. The Manufacturers Association report said 18% of the country's food producers introduced at least 10 new products into the market in 2007, while 74% started marketing up to nine new food products. Meanwhile, food sales to the Palestinian Authority in 2007 were down 30% from 2006, falling to NIS 300m., the report said. Annual food sales to the PA were NIS 600m. before the outbreak of hostilities in October 2000, the association said.