Putting a positive spin on whole grains

by Eric Schroeder
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BOSTON — For grain-based foods manufacturers, there is no shortage of positive whole grain messages for success. As part of a panel at the Whole Grains Council’s conference held Nov. 9-11 at the Hyatt Boston Harbor, representatives from three manufacturers — Bob’s Red Mill, Elevation Brands and Barilla — offered different takes on how to get those messages out.

Bob’s Red Mill, Milwaukie, Ore., has been a staple in the whole grains movement. The company’s products are recognizable for their logo featuring the company’s founder, Bob Moore. Dennis Gilliam, executive vice-president of sales and marketing at Bob’s Red Mill, said the company has found success by putting itself out there, even in the face of what can often be a challenging marketplace.

“Not only do we have to put ourselves out there, we have to convince the public and the consumers to come and find us and try us, and make changes in their eating lifestyles,” Mr. Gilliam said.

How is industry supposed to take this message to consumers? Mr. Gilliam said Bob’s Red Mill is doing this through television commercials, competing in porridge making contests, holding media tours and investing in research.

 

Trust is key

Meanwhile, at Elevation Brands, owner of the Ian’s brand, “trust” is vital to delivering a positive whole grain message for success, said Charles Marble, chief executive officer of Elevation Brands, Framingham, Mass.

“If you have food allergies, obviously the food you have to trust,” he said. “And we try to do that through our messaging with Ian’s.”

Ian’s was started in 2001 with a focus on children, but it has shifted focus recently to bring families into the fold as allergy awareness among adults has increased.

“From a positive messaging, our consumer research has shown that when you’re dealing with very serious messaging as in food allergens, the consumer wants to know emphatically ‘can I buy this or can I not buy this,’” Mr. Marble said. “So we say ‘No’ on our packaging. We say no casein, no nuts. Our research has shown that they like that.”

Ian’s successfully developed a whole grain, proprietary breading system using brown rice. The company took its learnings and now has 11 products with the Whole Grain Stamp.

“So you take that negative messaging and you throw a positive message outlining the attribute on the front of the package to let people know that our products are made with antibiotic-free chicken, they’re all natural, no artificial colors, preservatives, ingredients, but now we have this Whole Grain Stamp to really promote the fact that gluten-free does not have to be grain free.”

With the whole grain breading system, Ian’s has launched Sriracha Fire Sticks, Southwest chicken tenders and Smokin’ Sweet BBQ chicken nuggets.

 

Try it, you’ll like it

At Barilla, the mantra is simple: “Every step we take we have to drive to trial,” said Anna Rosales, R.D., nutrition manager, Region America, Barilla, Bannockburn, Ill.

“There is still this perception with consumers that whole grains don’t taste good,” Ms. Rosales said. “I know all of you in this room know this isn’t true, but a lot of consumers are still afraid to try whole grains.”

To overcome this barrier, Barilla held a whole grains taste challenge to get the positive message out on whole grains. Consumers were allowed to try a whole grain product. If they didn’t like it, they could fill out a redemption form for a coupon for regular semolina pasta.

“In the first six months of doing this promotion we had a trial of over 575,000 boxes of whole grain pasta,” Ms. Rosales said. “We had less than 400 people or so take us up on that offer of wanting to have the semolina pasta. That’s an incredible drive to trial.”

When Barilla was entering the whole grain marketplace in 2008, it did not have a 100% whole wheat pasta. Instead the company offered a 51% whole wheat pasta with the remaining portion being semolina. A big reason the company avoided 100% whole wheat was because of the taste perception barrier. Through positive messaging, though, Ms. Rosales believes the barrier can be brought down.

“If you’re able to overcome that, and to have an experience and try it in the best light, they’re going to enjoy it,” she said. “But something that people need to understand is that you can’t take every recipe you have and just make it whole grain. … the flavor is going to be off.”

Having recipes and cooking tips is really important, Ms. Rosales said.

Another way in which Barilla is putting a positive spin on whole grains is getting the product into the hands of its employees. At company locations in Europe, whole grain pasta is now offered in a prominent position in cafeterias and company cantinas. The initiative has led to a doubling in whole grain pasta consumption and a near doubling in whole grain bread consumption among the company’s employees.

“We just made it available every day, and it doubled intake,” Ms. Rosales said. “It’s amazing. We put whole grain bread before the white bread. It’s not rocket science.”

In America where the company does not have on-site cafeterias or cantinas, Barilla caters in whole grain pasta meals on “Share the Table” Tuesdays to encourage its employees to try a Mediterranean style meal.

What’s next in whole grains for Barilla? Ms. Rosales said the company will be transitioning to 100% whole wheat, whole grain product in 2015.

“We’ve done a lot of testing around this, and it’s performed at parity or better than our 51% whole grain so we’re excited to take that stepped approach where we start at 51%, we get consumers and people to try it and experience it to know that our product is great,” she said. “And then we take the next step up to 100% where we can have that heavy nutrition and health benefit and (consumers) understand that we’re going to be a supplier of products that they can trust. So we’re excited for the next generation of whole grain at Barilla.”
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