Marketing Grains: Recession Resistant
April 01, 2009
by Jennifer Barnett Fox
It’s been said that if you can’t eat it, you don’t need it. A bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but consumers are finding increasing validity to the idea. Today, the necessity to stretch food dollars translates into an opportunity for bakers and snack food manufacturers to provide nutrition and value through products made with grains.
The topsy-turvy economy has also provided a desire for simplification and a back-to-the-basics approach among consumers. These actions are quantified by increases in purchases of staples such as flour, bread, tortillas and pasta. A webinar led by NPD Group, Port Washington, NY, during October 2008, “Eating Patterns in America 2008,” reported that more grain-based meals are making it to the center of plate, and 71% of meals are prepared in the home. Not only are grain-based products generally more economical, they also often dovetail with consumer trends favoring clean labels, environmental and socially responsible production, and organic or all-natural ingredients.
At the March Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, CA, whole grains continued to make a strong showing. A number of products sported the Whole Grain Council’s (WGC) whole grain stamp on their packaging, and exhibitors showcased reformulations made with agave nectar, which is perceived as a better-for-you sweetener. Grain-based vegan reformulations were also prominent.
Acceptance of whole-grain products continues to grow and could probably now be categorized as mainstream. That said, innovative products that stress the economic and health benefits of grains must continue to make these claims so consumers do not dismiss whole grains as just another trend.
While neither whole grains nor fiber are considered new, the combination is one way manufacturers are keeping whole grains relevant to consumer demands for nutritious snacks that provide satiety. Once relegated to behind-closed-door discussions, fiber has become mainstream. The Fiber One brand from General Mills, Minneapolis, MN, has been instrumental in wooing a new generation of consumers to fiber. The fiber-filled brand recently added a ready-to-eat muffin to its line. Available in Wild Blueberry and Oats, Banana Chocolate Chip, Mixed Fruit, Nuts & Honey and Apple Cinnamon Bun varieties, Fiber One muffins contain 28% of the daily value of fiber and 8 g of whole grain per serving.
Natural Products Expo exhibitor, Omega Muffins, Thousand Oaks, CA, produces high-fiber muffins in six varieties with more than 1,300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving. The trans-fat-free muffins are also a good source of protein, cholesterol free and have less than 200 Cal per muffin. The company looks to provide “sustainable energy for the body and mind” with the freeze-and-thaw muffin.
Whole grains can be promoted any number of ways. Nutrition, clean label or back-tonature, the options abound. The nutritional benefit of whole grains is key to Chicago, IL-based Quaker Oats Co.’s new marketing message. For the first time in the company’s 130-plus year history, all marketing messages will focus on the nutritional benefits of whole-grain oats. The “Go humans go” campaign communicates the power of wholegrain nutrition to inspire the mind and fuel the body. Quaker Oat’s line includes old-fashioned oats, quick oats, instant oatmeal, ready-to-eat cereal and granola bars.
“This repositioning helps us elevate and communicate the power of this surprising super grain — the oat — to meet the needs of the growing number of health-conscious consumers,”said Mark Schiller, president, Quaker Oats.“We feel that Quaker has a great opportunity as a market leader in health and wellness to leverage our product portfolio under one powerful platform.”
Because health and wellness is not the focus of every consumer or restaurant/food service provider, Minneapolis, MN-based Cargill introduced a new whole-grain Healthy Cookie base, which offers suppliers an opportunity to promote nutritional value or the cookie’s wholegrain flavor. The customizable product base contains the company’s proprietary Oilggo-Fiber inulin, GrainWise Wheat Aleurone and WheatSelect white whole wheat, and it carries the Whole Grain Council’s whole grain stamp.
JUST THE FACTS.
Education and consumer awareness remain crucial in keeping the momentum of grain consumption moving forward. Organizations such as WGC, Wheat Foods Council (WFC) and Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) are instrumental in providing quality messages about grains to consumers and deflecting misinformation propagated by the media.
In March, members of the wheat foods industry joined to create the Grains for Health Foundation (GHF). The group will focus on the role of grains, grain components and whole grains in the reduction of chronic disease.“We want to pull the different sectors together from the perspective of figuring out how to prioritize, focus and leverage research dollars around key issues related to grainbased foods,” said Len Marquart, president and c.e.o., GHF and an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, St. Paul.
In 2004, GFF was specifically created to educate consumers on the benefits of grains. Interest in grains has increased as rising food prices propel consumers toward food choices that provide both economic and nutritional value. Last year, the foundation launched its Brown Bag Campaign to educate consumers about the economic and nutritional benefits of grain-based foods. GFF also provides a calculator at its Web site, www.grainpower.org , that allows consumers to calculate the savings of packing a lunch vs. eating out.
“For the grain-based food industry, this trend is a huge benefit because breads, pretzels, crackers, etc., so frequently complete a brown bag lunch or easy at-home meal,” said Judi Adams, president, GFF. “Grain products are some of the most affordable food products in the grocery store, so we think they are likely to remain on consumers’ grocery lists.”
Consumers are also adding whole grains through the purchase of private-label products. Mintel, a Chicago, IL-based research organization, reported that privatelabel bread has a higher household penetration than name-brand breads. And new consumer research provided by the Private Label Manu- facturers Association found that shoppers can save about 30% of their grocery bill by purchasing store-brand products on their weekly trips to the supermarket.
“Private label shares are growing in this environment,” said Ken Powell, c.e.o., General Mills. Store brand penetration climbed about one percentage point last year and is “up about a point for the first half of our fiscal year,” Mr. Powell continued.
ConAgra Foods, Omaha, NE, is one of many companies recognizing the increasing power of store and privatelabel brands. “We focus very much and take very seriously private-label products; we really think of them as retailer brands. Clearly, there’s a focus from the retailer on private label,” said Gary Rodkin, c.e.o., ConAgra Foods.
Whether you manufacture private label, national brands or both, your work to promote grain awareness and education must begin before consumers step foot in the grocery store. Use of traditional media, Web sites, blogs and other social media outlets help spread the message. As part of its Year 5 Program, GFF developed an editorial feature describing the health benefits of grains. Released to national newspapers and magazines, “The Goods on Grains” feature focuses on the importance of consuming grains. The 1-page feature also notes that the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid suggests six servings of grains per day for most people.
The suggestion for six grains should be encouraging to manufacturers of grain-based products, but there remains consumer confusion about the benefits of enriched grains and how to define a whole grain. However, with continued interest in healthier eating, enriched grains have taken a hit from a number of media sources who cited enriched grains as less nutritious than whole grains. Organizations such as GFF work to dispute this information. The foundation teams with the March of Dimes to educate women of childbearing age about the importance of increasing folic acid intake, of which enriched grains are a good source, to help prevent birth defects.
“The media is so cluttered with conflicting information about grains and diet in general that it’s important for consumers to use common sense when it comes to their health,” Ms. Adams said.
Associations like WGC work to make awareness of whole grains easier for consumers through the use of the group’s whole grain stamp. The 5-year-old association cited strong membership renewals during the economic downturn. Several WGC members reported increased retail sales that they attributed to more meals eaten at home.
“The value is there with whole grains because you are receiving four times the nutrients for the same prices, or maybe a very small premium, when you buy grains,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, WGC. “If consumers learn a bit more about what to look for and manufacturers work to be more clear on their labels, the two will meet in the middle, and both will benefit.”
Last fall, WFC literally took the wheat field to consumers with an Urban Wheat Field event in New York, NY. Designed to expose consumers to grains in whole form, the educational event focused on the economic and nutritional benefits of grains.
“Wheat contains a powerhouse of nutrients including complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, all of which contribute significantly to health,” said Marcia Scheideman, RD, president, WFC. “The average consumer can reap these benefits for only about 7c of wheat per day if they consume the recommended 5 to 10 oz daily,” Ms. Scheideman said. “We are committed to educating consumers about grains and their health benefits by communicating factual, sciencebased information using a variety of approaches.”
The WFC Web site, www.wheatfoods.org , and Grain Talk blog offer forums for consumers to post comments and for WFC personnel to address questions regarding grains and an opportunity to correct misinformation. Ms. Scheideman stated the growing trend of back-tothe-basics eating justifies a need for whole-grain offerings that are clearly labeled and sold at a reasonable cost. “The industry will attract and retain consumers by providing these strong, consistent messages about the economic value of grains in the diet and their contribution to health,” she emphasized.