Disappointment, lessons from whole wheat trends

by Josh Sosland
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While it may not be surprising, the flattening growth of whole wheat flour production in the 12 months ended May 31 is a disappointing development for wheat-based foods. The growth of 384,000 cwts, or 2%, from 2010-11, was the smallest year-to-year gain since the data first were collected by Milling & Baking News in the early 2000s.

The slow growth had been indicated both anecdotally and in data gathered independently by the North American Millers’ Association. There is reason to resist reading too much into a single year’s experience. Growth flattened in 2007-08 and 2008-09, only to rebound sharply in 2009-10. The weakness during the earlier two-year period was attributed in part to economic softness, a factor widely believed to be in play at the present time. Still, it would be unwise to dismiss the latest slump as an aberration.

The reemergence of the anti-whole wheat (anti-any wheat) book “Wheat Belly” to the top of the New York Times bestseller list is cause for real concern. Whole wheat foods are thought by many grain-based foods executives to confer a halo effect on the entire category. If “Wheat Belly,” with sales energized by an endorsement by the influential political commentator Bill O’Reilly, together with gluten-free dieting begins to cast a wide shadow over whole wheat, what becomes of the prospects for the much larger balance of wheat-based foods?

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