Whole grain opportunities

by Jeff Gelski
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While introductions and sales of whole grain products keep rising, ingredient suppliers are offering avenues for whole grain inclusion in savory snacks and food service pasta.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, more than 3,700 products sporting whole grain claims have been launched in the United States since 2005. While 2.3% of all new product launches had whole grain claims in 2005, 5.6% have had such a claim in 2010.

SPINS, which provides information on the natural product industry across retail channels, also has data showing gains in whole grain market penetration. Combined channel sales of naturally positioned dry grocery products with the Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council grew 16% for the 12-week period ended Aug. 7, 2010, when compared to the same 12-week period of the previous year.

“In fact, substantial sales growth is due primarily to performance of Whole Grains Council-certified natural bread and baked goods (up 221%); salt/savory snacks (up 133%) and energy bars (up 76%),” said Mary Ellen Lynch, director of consumer insights at SPINS.

Whole grain savory snacks were featured at the 21st Century Grain Processing booth at the International Baking Industry Exposition in September in Las Vegas. The company promoted Honey Kitchen Clusters, Chocolate Kitchen Clusters and Savory Cheddar Pubb Mixx. All three branded snacks offer 9 grams of whole grain per serving.

The savory cluster snacks have whole grain content in the range of 70% to 80% of the mix, said Bill Bonner, senior vice-president of R.&D. and technical services for Kansas City-based 21st Century Grain Processing. Compared to fried high-fat snacks, the savory clusters typically are formulated in a range of 5% to 8% fat versus the 35% to 50% alternatives.

“The whole grain-based savory clusters are an excellent standalone product for individual snack packs or in a multi-serving package,” Mr. Bonner said. “We have developed these products with that in mind as well as combining clusters with other multiple savory components. The flavor options, multiple whole grain component possibilities and targeted nutrition customization offer interesting health benefits and good tasting product.”

The Honey Kitchen Clusters and the Chocolate Kitchen Clusters both had whole grain rolled oats.

“Oats work well because of their relatively bland background and the ability for them to take on flavor systems easily,” Mr. Bonner said. “The nutritional

profile is well-documented in terms of B vitamins, efficacious protein and soluble fiber potential claims. Our business model is based on oats as a major component since our oat mill is adjacent to our clustering system. Cost of packaging and transporting is removed from the equation, giving cost savings to our customer.”

Besides oats, 21st Century Grain Processing offers whole grain barley, rye, wheat and ancient grains with coated grains and cereal clusters.

“All grains work well together, but the key to unique clusters is the physical form of the starting materials,” Mr. Bonner said. “Whole grain flakes complement one another, but in customization one should consider if you are designing a multigrain blend that you need to design in uniqueness. Therefore, consideration of red wheat over white wheat flakes for visual enhancement may be a good idea.”

More whole grain items soon may be found on restaurant menus due to Ultragrain Pasta from ConAgra Mills, Omaha, a division of ConAgra Foods, Inc. The pasta is based on Ultragrain, a whole wheat flour that combines the nutrition of whole grain with the taste, texture and appearance of white flour, according to ConAgra Mills. J.M. Swank, a national food ingredient distributor, and ConAgra Mills offer Ultragrain Pasta.

“Ultragrain whole wheat flour is currently used by a number of food manufacturers for pastas in frozen meals, canned soups and shelf-stable products, but this is the first time Ultragrain Pasta is available to food service operators and distributors,” said Mike Veal, vice-president of marketing for ConAgra Mills. “The success of pasta made with Ultragrain in retail products like Chef Boyardee canned pasta products as well as in Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choices lines of shelf-stable and frozen meals proves that mainstream consumers with a range of taste preferences all enjoy the taste of Ultragrain Pasta.

“There’s tremendous potential for growth in food service and food manufacturing with the better-for-you marketing possibilities and mainstream taste, texture and appearance of Ultragrain Pasta.”

Ultragrain Pastas offer a mild flavor, smooth texture, lighter color and no brown specks. The product holds up well in food manufacturing applications, Mr. Veal said.

“Ultragrain Pasta behaves similarly to traditional pastas in manufactured products as well as in tricky food service situations like steam-tables, where customers have told us that Ultragrain Pasta outperforms traditional pasta,” Mr. Veal said. “Because of this, it’s relatively easy for product developers to make the switch to Ultragrain Pasta.”

J.M. Swank has introduced five varieties. Penne, macaroni, rotini and spaghetti are made with 51% Ultragrain while a 51% whole 9-grain orzo is made with Ultragrain, Sustagrain, amaranth, quinoa, teff, sorghum, millet and other whole grains.

“The 51% Ultragrain level delivers a significant amount of whole grain nutrition, and by blending in 49% semolina we retain the characteristics of traditional durum-based pastas for the perfect al dente bite,” Mr. Veal said.

Whole grain pasta sales have performed well at the retail level. U.S. sales of such pasta reached $66 million for the 52 weeks ended July 10, 2010, which was up 11% from the previous 52-week period, according to The Nielsen Co. Overall pasta sales were $1.61 billion for the 52 weeks ended July 10, 2010, a 1.6% decline from the previous 52-week period. The sales figures covered food stores with $2 million and over in sales, excluding supercenters.

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