BOSTON — A surprising group of consumers tends to seek whole grain products – those trying to avoid carbohydrates.
The Oldways Whole Grains Council’s 2023 whole grain consumer insights survey released Aug. 23 found 16% of respondents said they were avoiding carbohydrates, which was down from 18% in the 2021 survey. Among Gen Z and millennial consumers, 10% said they were avoiding carbohydrates.
Among those who said they were avoiding carbohydrates, 37% said they choose whole grains whenever they are available, which compared to 26% for all respondents. Those avoiding carbohydrates also were more likely, at 31%, to say they have increased their whole grain intake in the last five years, which compared to 21% of all respondents.
The online survey of 1,500 Americans between the ages 18 to 89 was conducted from May 23 to June 7. Thirty-nine percent of all respondents said they have started eating more whole grains in the past five years, and 61% said they choose whole grains at least half of the time. Low-carbohydrate consumers, at 74%, were most likely to say they choose whole grains at least half the time. Among all respondents, 77% said they think they should increase their whole grains intake. When asked why they choose whole grains, 81% said health. Taste came in second at 39%.
When asked their favorite whole grain food, 34% said bread. Oatmeal was second at 24%, and popcorn was third at 19%. Breakfast was the most popular meal for whole grain intake with 49% saying they eat whole grains at breakfast most of the time or all the time. Other answers were dinner at 30%, lunch at 28% and snacks at 22%.
When asked about the Whole Grains Council’s Whole Grain Stamp found on products, 85% of respondents said they trust it and 83% said they would be more likely to buy a product if it had the Whole Grain Stamp, which was up from 78% in 2021.
When respondents were asked what strategies may encourage more whole grain consumption, the top three answers were reducing the cost at 59%, increasing variety and availability at supermarkets at 57%, and providing more education about whole grain benefits at 54%.
Inflation is influencing consumers as 51% said the price of products is a major factor in their purchasing decisions, which was up from 47% in 2021. Gen Z consumers, at 37%, were the most likely to cite cost as a significant barrier to whole grain consumption, followed by 29% of millennials, 27% of Gen X, 19% of baby boomers and 13% of the silent generation.
Questions in the survey also pertained to gluten, ancient grains and sustainability.
Only 8% of respondents correctly could define gluten as a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and as something that helps bread dough stretch and rise. Among those who correctly defined gluten, 71% said they choose whole grains at least half the time.
This year more respondents, at 70%, said they do not avoid gluten than the 66% in 2021. Fewer respondents, at 5%, in this year’s survey said they always avoid gluten when compared to the 2021 percentage of 8%. The percentage of respondents saying they avoided gluten entirely due to a medical diagnosis was 1.3% in 2023.
Quinoa was the most recognized ancient grain in the survey with over 70% of respondents saying they had heard of quinoa. Buckwheat was over 60%. When compared to the 2021 survey, more respondents said they had heard of millet, up to 40% from 36%, amaranth, up to 18% from 15%, and teff, up to 6% from 4%. Less than 10% of respondents in 2023 said they had heard of Kamut, teff, freekeh, triticale and fonio.
Millennials, at 24%, were more likely to say they chose whole grains for sustainability benefits, which compared with 14% among Gen Z, Gen X, baby boomers and the silent generation.The Oldways Whole Grains Council, a Boston-based nonprofit consumer advocacy group, works to increase whole grain consumption by encouraging manufacturers to create whole grain products, helping consumers find whole grain foods and helping the media with whole grain stories.