Whole grains are making inroads into school meals and pasta dishes, and another opportunity may lie in a segment not commonly associated with health and wellness. Whole grain snacks and bars might be a way to improve the health image of vending machine products.

In fact, the San Diego-based business Fresh Healthy Vending came into existence in 2010 and offers 100% juices, vegetables, fruits, smoothies and yogurts. Also found in the company’s vending machines are Kashi TLC chewy granola bars trail mix, featuring a blend of seven whole grains and sesame, and fruit and yogurt bars from Barbara’s Bakery, featuring whole grain wheat flour.

“Inclusion of whole grains in bars and salty snacks is a natural fit for these types of products,” said Elizabeth Arndt, director of research and development for ConAgra Mills, Omaha. “However, there is still a lot of opportunity for increased use of whole grains in the different bars and salty snacks sold in vending machines. Granola bars and fruit and grain bars have traditionally used whole grain oats. Some of these products now feature higher levels of whole grain inclusion and fiber, thanks to products like Sustagrain.”

Sustagrain from ConAgra Mills is a proprietary, identity-preserved barley variety.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., offers Kansas Diamond white whole wheat flour that has a mild flavor and smooth texture similar to white refined flours and provides the nutritional benefits of whole grain, said Brook Carson, technical product manager for ADM.

“Whole grain flours like ADM’s Kansas Diamond have made it possible to introduce higher levels of whole grains into mainstream product segments that have traditionally used refined white flours,” she said. “Going forward, I see the snack segment as a high potential market for the inclusion of whole grains. Consumers are looking for healthier snacks that are convenient and deliver value.

“When you think about nutrient density and satiety and how they relate to the perceived value of a snack item, whole grains have an important role to play in the development of these products.”

She added manufacturers should understand that while some applications may work as 100% whole grain, other applications may be better suited as “made with whole grains.”

Cereal Ingredients, Inc., Leaven-worth, Kas., and 21st Century Grain Processing, Kansas City, are two companies that offer whole grain ingredients for inclusion in snacks and bars.

Nutri-Bites whole grain balls from Cereal Ingredients are made from a variety of multigrain flours. They may be used as centers for coated snacks; a topping or tack-on for coated snacks, bars and pretzels; R.-T.-E. cereal inclusions; granola; or in nutritional and cereal bars.

21st Century Grain Processing offers whole grain clusters for use in sweet snacks or savory snacks.

Stability and shelf life are concerns in vending machine products.

“Our whole grain corn flour uses a patented process to increase stability,” said Kelsey Webster, marketing analyst for Cargill Corn Milling. “This makes it especially favorable for use in extruded snacks, whether they are on store shelves or in vending machines.”

Whole grains may be incorporated into snacks and bars that typically pass through a frying, toasting or baking process that provides product stabilization and enzyme deactivation, said Robert Meyer, director of technical services for Dakota Specialty Milling, Fargo, N.D. When using seeds, processors should be aware of certain issues, such as the potential for rancidity with toasted sunflower and flax, he added.

Dr. Arndt of ConAgra Mills said, “Overall, the challenges for products sold in vending machines are the same for refined and whole grain versions. Potential exposure to non-ideal temperatures is one of the challenges. Also, some products may have more age due to slower turnover rates.

“To meet the challenges of vending machine distribution, it is important for manufacturers to use high quality, fresh whole grain ingredients from a trusted supplier. Also, the fats and oils used in snack product formulations should have the appropriate composition and stability for these applications. The use of oils with lower stability profiles in combination with whole grains in bar and salty snack products can lead to oxidation and off flavors.”

Mr. Meyer sees a future for whole grain inclusion in vending machine products.

“This will take some time to make a real significant change in this market, but once consumers learn more about whole grain benefits and begin to demand access to these products in vending machines, then change will happen,” he said. “School dietitians and education are key to promoting the use of healthier snack products in vending machines.”

‘Whole grain rich’ school meals

Healthier school meals may lead to more whole grain products, too, judging by the proposed rule “Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs” published Jan. 13 in the Federal Register. Under the proposed rule, two years post-implementation, all grains offered during the school week must be “whole grain rich.”

Ingredient suppliers already are working with school districts.

Cargill’s bakery technology group helped a Minnesota school district adjust its formulas to make whole grain bread appealing to students, said Danielle Zinke, in marketing for Horizon Milling, a joint venture between Cargill and CHS, Inc. The new rolls baked in the schools use Horizon Milling’s WheatSelect white spring whole wheat flour. The rolls contain 50% less fat and 10% less sodium than the previous bread formula.

“Cargill’s bakery technology group provided five dinner roll formulas that replaced traditional whole wheat flour with WheatSelect white spring whole wheat flour,” Ms. Zinke said. “The team also provided processing recommendations so each of the district’s 21 schools could successfully make the breads as baking equipment varies greatly from school to school.

“WheatSelect flour is 100% whole wheat but gives baked products more of the lighter color, softer texture and milder flavor of traditional wheat flour. The new rolls were a hit with students — 22% more whole wheat rolls are consumed now.”

Dakota Specialty Milling has an on-staff baker and bake lab to provide recipe and process assistance to help bakeries and food processors incorporate whole grain and multigrain blends and flours into baked goods of all types, Mr. Meyer said. These include products such as buns, pizza crusts and rolls that commonly are used in school lunch programs where grain texture is minimized.

Ms. Carson of ADM said, “In terms of school lunch programs, our team of food technologists is well-versed in formulating with whole grains and works closely with our regulatory group to provide guidance of specific nutritional requirements.”

ConAgra offers a SuperKids school food service program that features fiber and whole grain nutrition in foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Dr. Arndt said in school lunch studies conducted by the University of Minnesota, pasta made with 25% to 100% Ultragrain whole wheat flour from ConAgra Mills was found to be well-accepted by children and consumed at levels greater than the traditional refined grain counterparts.

Pasta delivers nutrient density

Surveys and sales figures show the successful trend of whole grain pasta.

U.S. retail sales of whole wheat pasta reached $128 million in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 5, 2010, according to SymphonyIRI. Whole wheat pasta had an average selling price of $1.50, compared with $1.27 for regular pasta, and whole wheat pasta took up a 9% share of the pasta category. The retail sales covered U.S. grocery stores, excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

ConAgra Mills and J.M. Swank, a national food ingredient distributor, offer Ultragrain Pasta, which is made with a blend of Ultragrain whole wheat flour and semolina. It offers the mild flavor, light color, speck-free appearance and al dente bite of refined-flour pasta. Chef Boyardee uses Ultragrain Pasta in its line of Whole Grain Beefaroni, Lasagna and Mini ABC’s & 123’s, which offer whole grains and a full serving of vegetables.

At the food service level, Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, a Minnesota-based salad manufacturer, has a new pasta base made with Ultragrain Pasta. It features Ultragrain Rotini Pasta, basil, white wine vinegar, oil, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, Tabasco and spices.

According to a ConAgra Mills Pasta Attitude & Usage Study, 72% of restaurant patrons responded they would order pasta with whole grains if it were offered on a menu.

“Another advantage of pasta is that because it is a grain dense food, pasta can still deliver a dietary significant amount of whole grain at lower inclusion levels,” Dr. Arndt said. “For example, pasta made with 25% whole grain has 13 grams per cup (about 2 oz dry).”

Global whole grain new product launches in 2010

Category Number

Bakery 1,248

Breakfast cereals 971

Snacks 485

Side dishes 277

Meals and entrees 116

Other 89

Baby food 86

Source: Mintel’s Global New Products Database

Whole Grain Stamp travels the globe

The world tour of the Whole Grain Stamp apparently is in full swing. The Whole Grains Council said on March 29 that its Whole Grain Stamp appeared on more than 5,000 products. It is now found in 22 countries, including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and China. About 10% of the Whole Grains Council’s 275 members are based outside the United States and about 15% of products using the stamp are being sold outside the United States.

“It is a great way to help call out sources of whole grain for consumers, but it’s especially effective in countries where there are other supporting regulatory forces aiming to increase the consumption of whole grain, like the Dietary Guidelines in the United States,” said Kelsey Webster, marketing analyst for Cargill Corn Milling. “In Mexico, for instance, regulations passed last year support improved nutrition for food sold to children, specifically through channels associated with the school, whether stores or vending machines.

“Food manufacturers are under added pressure to make products marketed to children healthier so we have seen increased whole grain use in kids’ snacks, for example.”

Robert Meyer, director of technical services, Dakota Specialty Milling, Fargo, N.D., said, “Bakeries and food processors in Mexico, Latin America and China are exploring ways to supplement distinct product preferences in each market with the added nutrition of whole grains. Crackers, snacks, fresh breads and R.-T.-E. cereals are target markets and include challenges of cost management and appeal for a broad market.”

A Whole Grain Forum in China in April was organized jointly by China’s Public Nutrition and Development Center, the Whole Grains Council and the Grains for Health Foundation.

An April 24 blog entry on the Whole Grains Council web site discussed the event and pointed out whole grain issues specific to China. For one issue, meals in China may consist of as many as a dozen small dishes, a situation that makes it a challenge to count servings or to use a packaging symbol like the Whole Grain Stamp. For another issue, people ate whole grains during Chinese famines. Nowadays, eating steamed buns and noodles are considered a symbol of prosperity while whole grains may be associated with hunger and hard times.