When the government recommended in 2005 consumers make at least half of their grains intake whole, it sparked interest in a languishing category ultimately prompting a firestorm of new products promoting whole grains. Today, although the momentum of whole grain product introductions has leveled, interest in the category remains.
That interest has a lot to do with the way food and beverage companies are bundling health and wellness trends, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of consulting for Mintel Custom Solutions, Mintel International, Chicago. Speaking at the "Whole Grains Choices ... Everywhere America Eats"conference held Nov. 5-7 in Kansas City, Ms. Dornblaser said new product introductions containing whole grains totaled 295 through October, which compared with 491 new whole grain products in 2006. Six per cent of all new product introductions this year have incorporated whole grains, she said.
Citing Mintel data, Ms. Dornblaser said the growth of whole grain products has been even more impressive on a global scale, as 1,518 whole grain products have been introduced thus far in 2007, up from 1,243 in 2006 and a mere 209 in 2001. She said a lot of the growth stems from significant interest in Latin America and Europe.
A key behind the growth has been bundling health and wellness issues, Ms. Dornblaser said. She pointed to the introduction of products containing whole grains plus fortification as an example. Specifically, she mentioned new wellness bars from San Francisco-based Attune Foods. The bars contain specially formulated Lafti probiotics that are clinically proven to be effective and help promote health and wellness, balance the digestive system, and support a strong immune system.
In addition, food and beverage manufacturers have linked whole grains with organics, ancient grains, portion control and indulgence as a way to keep the category fresh and exciting.
Ms. Dornblaser said these efforts will be necessary going forward, as whole grain introductions are expected to flatten.
Positive attitudes play key role
In a presentation at the W.G.C. conference, Shelley Goldberg, director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council, Washington, said a high level of knowledge about and positive attitudes toward whole grain and fiber present an opportunity to further enhance motivators and help consumers overcome barriers to increase consumption.
According to a food and health survey conducted by I.F.I.C. in May, 25% of consumers are not satisfied with their health status, but 66% have made an effort to improve the healthfulness of their diet. Ms. Goldberg said the data suggest a willingness by consumers to consume a specific food or beverage component, and whole grains rank right near the top of the list.
In an October survey conducted by I.F.I.C., 72% of consumers asked about the specific benefits of the top functional foods associated whole grains with benefits related to cardiovascular disease, while 86% associated both fiber and whole grains with intestinal health.
Seventy-one per cent of consumers surveyed by I.F.I.C. said they are trying to consume more whole grains.
Children provide an opportunity
Dr. Len Marquart, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, believes children will be an important target market in the future in the effort to increase whole grain intake.
Currently, national school programs provide 9 million children with breakfast and 31 million with lunch on a daily basis, he said, and items such as whole wheat pizza crust are becoming just as acceptable as traditional crust. But a challenge remains educating vendors and food service directors, groups that Mr. Marquart said "are passing in the night" and failing to grasp the whole grains message.
He said whole grains are way behind fruits and vegetables and dairy, but that efforts are under way that show promise for growing whole grains consumption among children.
"After-school snack programs are a feasible and effective setting to increase whole grain intake," he said.