WASHINGTON — Two new nutrition science studies, a new consumer insights project and two partnership projects are expected annually in coming years by the Grain Foods Foundation, said Erin E. Ball, the group’s executive director.

The initiatives were among outcomes GFF investors should expect as a result of a strategic plan adopted by the foundation and approved by its board of trustees. Together with Chad Donvito, president of King’s Hawaiian and a GFF board member, Ms. Ball shared the strategic plan in a June 7 Zoom call with a wide range of industry stakeholders.

Underpinning the strategic plan is a vision for the GFF to be “recognized nationally” as the leader in “promoting and protecting the grain foods category and in positively impacting influencer and consumer perceptions of grain-based foods.”

Ms. Ball said the GFF already has had a “taste” of realizing this vision, “but we want more.” The GFF plan covers the fiscal years 2024-26. It was published a year after the group terminated plans for a grain-based checkoff program.

Offering background on the presentation, Ms. Ball said “embedded in the job offer” last November for her to become the permanent executive director of the GFF was an expectation she would work with the group’s board of trustees to create a strategic plan. The plan was informed by numerous resources, including the group’s last strategic plan, adopted a year after the group was established in 2004; industry landscape analysis, focused on GFF’s place within the constellation of grain-foods industry groups;  industry analysis gathered several years ago as part of an exploration of an industry checkoff program; a fall “listening tour” conducted by Ms. Ball in 2022; and SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) conducted more recently.

Creation of the plan was led by Ms. Ball together with GFF’s new co-chairs — Angie Goldberg, chief growth officer of Ardent Mills; and Lorraine Hale, vice president and general manager of bread, buns and rolls for Bimbo Bakeries USA. Ms. Ball said the three relied on numerous other members of the GFF board of trustees, including Mr. Donvito.

The plan is built around five strategic pillars, reviewed during the call by Ms. Ball and Mr. Donvito — research, experts, communications, revenue and operations. The plan defines and establishes goals in connection with each pillar.

For research, the plan envisages the GFF as “the thought-leader and science-driver in the grain-based foods category by facilitating, funding, translating, and magnifying both peer-reviewed nutrition science and consumer insights research.”

Goals established in connection with research include building a library of quality scientific research that explains the nutrition science of grain-based foods and why consumers should eat such products. Consumer insights research should be conducted to explain why consumers choose to eat grain-based foods or choose to avoid the products.

Among key performance indicators measuring the success of the strategic plan are the two annual nutrition science studies and the consumer insights project. 

 erin-ball.jpgErin Ball, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation. Source: GFF“What we see going forward is that this is a cycle, one feeding the other, as we continue to better understand the end consumer and working with investors to do that in a way that doesn’t duplicate what you’re doing internally but brings value,” Ms. Ball said. “As we together understand consumers better we are going to be able to answer their questions around nutrition science with more focus, more efficiency and more power.”

Scientific research has grown more prominent in GFF activities of recent years, but   two studies per year would represent a significant expansion in this arena.

A Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has been central to GFF activities almost since the group’s inception, and the SAB will remain core to the group’s work going forward, with the group serving as a “strong, in-house resource of the advancement of grain foods nutrition science,” according to the plan.

To maximize the SAB’s effectiveness, the GFF will contract with SAB members annually, utilize the group for rapid response and research translation while helping the foundation decide what research to pursue.

The plan also calls for the SAB to play a role in the communications pillar, which identifies GFF investors as the group’s primary target audience. Beyond its members, the GFF will aim communications at health influencers, practitioners/clinicians and policy makers, all with an eye toward ultimately reaching consumers. Communication goals include growing audiences exposed to GFF messages, regular investor communications initiatives and regularly seeking investor feedback.

Communications objectives in the strategic plan suggest the GFF should view investor target audiences as GFF target audiences. Additionally, the foundation should “provide excellent investor resources based on research funding and translation efforts.”

Mr. Donvito explained, “One of the things we discussed is making sure we use the public relations side of things to really help proactively push out messages. That could be all over the place. In many cases consumers are coming from different places now. So it could be more traditional consumer health publications from a media perspective, health policy makers but also influencers to discuss health messages related to grain foods. It could go as far as talking within retail stores. Giant has their own health influencer who goes and talks to morning shows. The idea is can we get this message out through other channels to amplify it.”

Other communications goals enumerated in the plan include reaching policy makers with the help of advocacy and lobbying efforts, growing audiences across social platforms, engaging in partnerships with other food groups and organizations and to participate in the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate National Strategic Partners program as “grains nutrition thought leader and a science driver.”

“We think this is a pretty well-rounded plan,” Mr. Donvito said. “It picks off not only traditional influencers but also organizations that can actually influence consumers like MyPlate. I think the team under Erin's leadership has done a good job in figuring out how to get this out not just to us as members to overall audiences who can use this to change consumer behavior.”

Growing revenue, which has been a challenge for the GFF in recent years, is considered a pillar of the plan. The pillar is premised on steady to growing investor dues but also focuses on non-dues revenue — raising special project funding from existing investors or non-investors.

Partnerships on research projects with health-related non-profit organizations will be explored, Ms. Ball said. She said discussions have begun with organizations in Washington to better understand the funding landscape.

GFF also will revisit its investor funding framework, which Ms. Ball said is based on wheat flour production/utilization.