While whole wheat demand slumps, whole grains expand

by Josh Sosland
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Products bearing the Whole Grains stamp
 The Whole Grains Council has registered a total of 11,189 productsfor the Whole Grain Stamp to date.

BOSTON — Even as signs suggest softness in demand for whole wheat foods, interest in whole grains overall continues to expand, said Cynthia Harriman of the Whole Grains Council.

Ms. Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the W.G.C., offered an upbeat picture of the whole grain foods marketplace. She noted that 1,282 new products have registered for the Whole Grain Stamp to date in 2016, a pace making it likely the total for the year will match the record of 2,122 new products registered in 2015. Registrations totaled 1,666 in 2014 and 1,622 in 2013. The Whole Grains Council has registered a total of 11,189 products to date (some of which have been discontinued from production over time).

Asked to comment on a decline in whole wheat flour production in April-May to the lowest level in several years, Ms. Harriman said the weakness does not reflect on overall demand for whole grains.

Cynthia Harriman, Whole Grains Council
Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council

“There’s more awareness that whole grain foods made with flour — bread, crackers, cookies, cereal — aren’t the only game in town, and that eating whole grains themselves in their intact form is not only healthy but opens new worlds of flavor and texture,” Ms. Harriman said. “People used to think whole wheat was synonymous with whole grain. Wheat no longer rules the roost. Now they’re aware that there’s a world of other grains out there, and manufacturers are getting much more creative in using grains other than wheat. Part of this is due to gluten-free interest, but even other gluten grains — barley, rye, triticale — are getting more attention these days.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whole wheat flour production in January-June 2016 was 10,683,000 cwts, down 8% from 11,635,000 cwts in the first six months of 2015.

She said that in 2015, wheat was an ingredient in about 41% of the new products featuring the Whole Grain Stamp. In 2007-09, the percentage was 67%.

Gluten-free products featuring quinoa
Gluten-free interest continues to grow, with quinoa gaining popularity.

The gluten-free trend also may be a factor, Ms. Harriman said.

“Gluten-free interest continues to be high (higher than medical evidence would merit, but that’s another discussion), so whole wheat flour has in some applications been displaced by gluten free flour blends,” she said. “Also, remember that most grains are gluten-free, so even people who have no interest in eating gluten-free are eating gluten-free grains just for the variety. Witness quinoa’s popularity, which predates the current gluten-free push.”  

W.G.C. data support the gluten-free ascent cited by Ms. Harriman. She said 54% of new products with the Whole  Grain Stamp featured a gluten-free first ingredient in 2015, up from 33% in 2007-09.

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