Contributing columnist and president of the Grain Foods Foundation, Judi Adams, provides a preview as to what the food industry can expect in the year ahead.

Just as children are shopping for new backpacks and sharpening pencils to head back to school, we at the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), Ridgway, Colo., have been busy preparing for the upcoming year. Because our year starts on Sept. 1, we spend our summers preparing for the year ahead.

The upcoming year will strike a balance between reaching both influencers and consumers. The foundation’s mission is to advance the public’s understanding of the important role grain-based foods play in a healthful diet. Therefore, part of our job at GFF is asking what resonates with consumers when it comes to nutrition and health information-there is no single answer to this complicated question and our programs must reflect this complexity. Since GFF formed in 2004, a number of programs have been executed to fulfill our mission, but as nutrition, media and consumer trends change, so does our outreach.     

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation 2011 Food & Health Survey, Americans obtain nutrition and health information from a variety of sources. When asked, “what three sources of information do you use most often to guide your food and nutrition practices,” more than two-thirds of participants revealed they turn to at least one media source (ranging from traditional to online media). Other top sources include the food label and the advice of friends and family members.

The implications of these findings have certainly played a role in shaping our programming for this next fiscal year. Based on the explosive growth and adoption of social media, how we define influencers has changed. While the term influencer once meant health professionals, it now encompasses consumer influencers, including bloggers and social media influencers. As a result, engaging with this group will be critical throughout the coming year.     In particular, we’ll be enhancing the foundation’s social media presence. On Twitter, we currently engage with consumers using the account @GoWiththeGrain. However, the addition of @GrainsRD this month will enable us to better reach nutrition and media influencers in this space. Because a registered dietitian is running the new handle, it establishes GFF as a credible resource for all things related to grains nutrition.     

And because grains nutrition can encompass a wide range of topics, we’ve refined our focus from an efficiency and impact standpoint. Two trends we’ve identified that most affect the industry are the gluten-free movement and Hispanic nutrition. In the coming months, we will have webinars planned for health practitioners in each of these areas that can later be shared through our social media channels.

When it comes to gluten-free, our objectives are to clarify when a gluten-free diet is medically necessary and help mitigate the promotion of it for weight loss. With the help of advisory board member and gluten-free expert, Shelley Case, we are working to position GFF as a leading voice in the gluten-free conversation.

The Hispanic population is disproportionately affected by birth defects, with Hispanic women nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic women to have a baby born with a neural tube defect. As such, our Hispanic nutrition messages are focused on the prevention of birth defects. Given enriched grains’ fortification with folic acid, we are educating those who work with this population about the importance of enriched grains for prevention, especially since they are the single largest source of folic acid in the American diet. Advisory board member Sylvia Melendez-Klinger will be integral in our efforts.

Finally, GFF will showcase its programs to traditional health professional influencers at tradeshows throughout the fall. This month, we will exhibit at the American Dietetic Association’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE), Sept. 24-27 in San Diego. While we’re there, we’ll have the opportunity to attend events with both the gluten-free and Hispanic nutrition communities. Following FNCE, we’ll host the panel, “Grains Nutrition Update: The Issues Affecting Our Industry” at Chicago’s All Things Baking, Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. Please join us to hear from the experts about gluten-free, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, folic acid and more.     

This is a small snapshot of what lies ahead, and we’re very excited to start our new year. I look forward to seeing many of you at upcoming events.