A. Elizabeth Sloan

Wholly Grain!
If there’s one thing consumers have learned from the low-carb movement, it’s that there are "good "and "bad" carbs—and whole grains top the "good" list.

After "fresh," "whole grain" is now the most desired food label claim, according to the HealthFocus 2005 Trends Survey. It reported that 45% of shoppers increased their use of whole grains during the past two years and 38% increased their dietary fiber. The Natural Marketing Institute reported that 82% of consumers ate whole-grain foods in 2004, 65% want their store to carry more high-fiber foods, and 26% believe their diet is deficient in whole grains, 30% in dietary fiber.

Grains have been given the first, widest, and most important vertical band in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's new MyPyramid guidance system. The latest edition of The Recommended Dietary Allowances contained not only new dietary fiber values but also a first-time recommendation for increased whole grain consumption. More important, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans committee concluded that diets rich in whole grains can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and act as an effective weight management tool. HealthFocus found that 79% of shoppers strongly agree/agree that fiber reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

Packaged Facts projects that sales of whole grain and high-fiber products will grow from $4.79 billion to $7.5 billion by 2009, with a spike in 2005. General Mills grabbed the category by reformulating its Big G cereals with whole grains. Nestlé’s Stouffer's Lean Cuisine’s Spa Cuisine™ brought whole-grain recipes of leading spa chefs to ready meals, while Sara Lee created premium bread products with its Heart-Healthy loaves.

Pizza Pizza Restaurants added a whole-wheat multigrain pizza, Noodles and Co. a whole-grain fettuccine, and Brueggar’s Bagels a whole-wheat bagel. Monterey Gourmet Foods developed fresh whole-wheat gourmet pasta, and Tumaro’s Gourmet Tortillas crafted whole-wheat tortillas to give restaurants and at-home Mexican fare a flavored, colorful, and very healthy twist.

Sales of all-natural whole-grain baking mixes/ingredients jumped 32% in the specialty food channel in 2004, according to ACNeilsen. Hodgson Mill’s offers whole-grain, convenient, old-fashioned bread, muffin, biscuit, and pancake mixes with "no added chemicals" and whole-grain "never bleached or bromated," "no additive" flours, including spelt, soy, buckwheat, and brown rice. Bob’s Red Mill offers whole-grain Red Mill® 10-Grain Cereal and Pancake Mixes and Irish Soda Bread, as well as stone-ground whole-grain kamut, quinoa, teff, and amaranth flours.

Annie’s Homegrown has introduced Bite Size Totally Natural Whole Wheat Bunnies crackers, Cascadian Farm has Organic Chewy Granola Multi-Grain bars, and Rice Expressions offers a whole-grain Organic Rice Pilaf. Breaking new beverage territory are Lundberg’s Drink Rice non-dairy whole-grain brown rice beverage and Pacific Foods’ Low Fat Original Multi Grain drink with oat groats, triticale, barley, soybeans, brown rice, and amaranth.

Nu-World Foods introduced amaranth-based Snackers & Mini-Ridges crackers in Chili Lime and Rosemary Basil flavors and allergen-free amaranth cereals, flour, bran flour, puffed amaranth, and bread crumbs. Alti Plano Gold™ offers Instant Quinoa Cereal—a hot, high-protein cereal made from whole-grain quinoa—and Zoë’s Foods has a whole-grain flax and soy cereal, Zoë’s O’s. Rudi’s Organic Bakery has crafted 100% Whole Spelt Tortillas; Barbara’s Bakery Snackimals animal cookies made from organic oats and barley flour; and Eden Organic Kamut & Buckwheat Rigatoni and Flax Rice Spiral Pasta.

Lundberg offers Wehani aromatic whole-grain rice and Black Japonica whole-grain rice. Lotus Foods offers heirloom and 100% organic rice varietals, including Bhutanese, Jasmine, Cannaroli and Kalifura Rice. Sprouted grains—such as Food for Life’s Ezekiel Sprouted Corn and Grain Tortillas and Ezekiel 4:9 cereals—is another fast-emerging trend.

In a food world long dominated by refined products, the shift to whole grains will require a fundamental change in the way companies manufacture and market grain-based foods. But the tools are falling into place. The Whole Grains Council offers a grain stamp to help consumers better understand a product’s whole-grain content. Ingredient giants like ConAgra have developed an Ultra White Whole Wheat Flour, Cargill Maize Wise whole-grain corn/corn-bran flours, and Kerry America Nutriant soy flour that meets the American Association of Cereal Chemists’ definition of whole grain.

And as the fast-emerging blood sugar–management markets grow, so will whole-grain products that facilitate glycemic control.

Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends & Solutions, Inc.
Escondido, Calif.
[email protected]