The Whole Truth
By Deborah Cassell
Today’s consumer is looking for a few good grains ... whole grains, that is. Before jumping on the bandwagon, read up on the benefits and challenges of incorporating these healthful ingredients into baked goods and snacks.
In the most pivotal scene of one of the best-known American movies, Lt. Daniel Kaffee — Oscar nominee Tom Cruise — faces an intimidating Col. Nathan Jessup — Oscar winner Jack Nicholson — and demands, “I want the truth!”
Like Lt. Kaffee, consumers know what it means to search for answers and come up empty-handed. But bakers and snack food producers finally are learning that honesty really is the best policy when it comes to providing product information. As a result, ingredient statements and food labels in general are becoming easier to interpret.
Take whole grains. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration issued new Dietary Guidelines instructing Americans to consume 3 oz. or more of whole grain products per day. To that end, the FDA says manufacturers can make factual statements on their products such as “100% whole grain” or “10 g. of whole grains.”
Now that consumers are more aware of the importance of whole grains in a healthy diet, they’ve started seeking out items that provide a daily allowance. In short, the Marines might be looking for “A Few Good Men,” but consumers are looking for a few good grains.
Consumer education is at an all-time high where whole grains are concerned.
“It’s easier than ever for consumers to get the whole grain nutrition they want in a wide variety of foods that fit their individual preferences,” says Mike Veal, vice president of marketing for ConAgra Mills, Omaha. However, he adds, “Consumers today associate whole grains with fiber, which is just one whole grain benefit. More education will increase consumer knowledge of the entire benefit package of whole grains, including, for example, their antioxidant value.”
That said, Kyle Marinkovich, associate marketing manager for Horizon Milling, Minneapolis, points out that consumers are seeking ways to deliver more whole grains per serving. Instead of looking for products that are labeled “made with whole grain,” he notes, they’re going for ones that read “100% whole grain.”
In short, whole grains have gone beyond being a trend.
“People are aware of what they are eating and how it impacts their overall health, so the move towards whole grains is a move towards a healthier way of living,” says Nick Weigel, director of technical services for ADM Milling, Overland Park, Kan. “Kids today are being raised on products that contain whole grains.”
Kerry Medlicott, director of marketing for Caravan Ingredients, Lenexa, Kan., agrees that the continued increase in whole grain sales indicate this is not a short-term fad.
“Focus groups and interviews with customers indicate that a number of children are now becoming accustomed to eating whole grain bread,” she notes. “This is a trend that will continue into the next generation of shoppers. Whole grains are not just for health nuts and hippies anymore.”
Organizations such as the Whole Grains Council, Boston, help teach the public about the importance of incorporating whole grains into a healthy diet. In fact, Doug Jump, national trade marketing manager for Puratos, Cherry Hill, N.J., says these groups “are ensuring that consumers are in tune with the benefits of whole grains.”
For example, in November, the council held a Just Ask for Whole Grains conference in Kansas City, Mo., for health professionals, marketing executives and R&D scientists from the nation’s leading companies. Attendees were, of course, served whole grain foods at every meal.
In addition, the council offers a Whole Grain Stamp that identifies how many grams are in a single serving of product.
Marinkovich calls the stamp “a great tool for consumers to help them understand the amount of whole grains in a product.”
At press time, the Canadian government had just approved the use of the council’s stamp on products sold in Canada, as well, says Cynthia Harriman, director of food & nutrition strategies for the WGC.
“We’re pleased that our successful packaging symbol is going international,” she says.
Other organizations do their parts to contribute to whole grain awareness, as well. Weigel credits the Grain Foods Foundation, Ridgway, Colo., as one such group. Most recently, the foundation held a Smart Snacking contest in which nearly 700 consumers entered their favorite whole grain recipes. The winner, Brenda Salveson of Rescue, Calif., updated an old favorite by spreading cream cheese and raisins on whole grain bread to create Ants Hiding in a Log From the Anteater.
Just as consumers need educating, so do bakers and snack food producers benefit from learning more about whole grains.
“It is our responsibility to continue the education with our manufacturing partners, who will in turn further educate the consumer,” Jump says, adding that his company provides its customers with recipe ideas and bakery technician support.
“Our bakery technicians work with our products every day and know best how to adapt a product to different bakery surroundings,” he says.
Likewise, Horizon Milling offers its customers assistance with new product development and the associated technical challenges, as well as market insights.
Grain Millers, Eden Praire, Minn., also makes a point of holding frequent customer conferences with R&D groups to share its technologies.
At ADM Milling, a Bakery Platform group helps customers understand how whole grains can be used by providing them with prototypes of various products that contain whole grain ingredients.
“The amount of whole grains in these products can vary, depending on whether the customer is interested in pursuing a ‘made with’ or ‘100%’ whole grain strategy,” Weigel says. “This enables our customers to touch, taste, feel and see delicious products that have been made with whole grains so that they can overcome any concerns they may have regarding finished product quality.”
One concern for customers is the cost. For instance, Weigel notes, if a manufacturer requests a whole grain that is not readily available or requires more specialized processing, finished products may be impacted significantly. Some applications call for richer formulations, he adds, which also can affect pricing. For example, adding gluten for structure or increasing sweeteners to help the flavor may drive the end cost.
Because whole grain bakery products are more difficult to produce, “bakeries do experience higher losses and slower production rates,” says Terese O’Neill, regional emulsifier director for Danisco, New Century, Kan. She adds that Danisco sells technical solutions to help businesses overcome the difficulties of manufacturing whole grain bakery products. Innovations such as the company’s PANODAN DATEM and GRINDAMYL Strengthening Enzymes or POWERBake enzyme/emulsifier blends aid in the high-speed production of these products.
“These strengthening products aid development of the gluten matrix and can possibly reduce gluten levels,” O’Neill says, adding that because whole grain products tend to dry out and stale faster than white bread, Danisco also offers its GRINDAMYL POWERFresh G4 anti-staling enzyme technology.
When it comes to consumers, Jump says Puratos’ research reveals that “cost is not a determining factor in the buying proposition when consumers are seeking healthy products.”
Indeed, Medlicott notes, “the premium positioning of whole grain products means that the profit margin can be greater.”
New flour varieties tend to be the impetus that’s driving growth in the sale of whole grain baked goods, Veal says.
“With the increase of whole grain products in the marketplace, we are seeing a steady increase in the demand for all whole wheat/whole grain flours,” Weigel observes.
To that end, Veal notes, ConAgra Mills offers Ultragrain whole grain flours and Sustagrain ultra high-fiber barley, both of which are used in breads, snacks, pasta and pizza — “anywhere where refined flour would be used.”
In addition, ConAgra Mills recently introduced a third line of user-friendly flours, multigrain blends and eye-catching inclusions. The Ancient Grains line is “helping to push demand for whole grains because of the unique benefits they offer, including stellar nutrition and great flavor,” Veal says.
“Because we offer so many varieties of whole grains,” he adds, “we can help our customers adjust their formulations with the whole grain that best suits their desired end product.”
At Caravan Ingredients, Medlicott has received requests for everything from white whole wheat to fine blends and visible grains across all product categories, including bagels, tortillas, bread, rolls, pizza and even cakes. After reviewing the marketplace, Caravan Ingredients launched a range of whole grain products — featuring the WGC’s Whole Grain Stamp — that counteract the bitter aftertaste often associated with whole grain products. Products include Half N Half Honey Wheat, Six Grain Blend and Super-Soaked Whole Grains.
“The secret to their success is their ease of use,” Medlicott says. “The grains are ready to use and can be added to any bread or cake formulation, plus the moisture within the grains stops the absorption of moisture from the finished product, which helps with the shelf life and eating quality of your baked goods.”
Puratos’ whole grain products include a line of whole grain sweet goods. According to Kathryn Power, assistant trade marketing manager, in a recent survey of industry professionals and consumers, the company’s Tegral Whole Grain Cake N Muffin products earned an 83% approval rating.
“Puratos’ whole grain products not only taste great, but each product has at least three health benefits,” Power says. “All of the products are free of trans fat and hydrogenated oil, as well as being 100% whole grain. Our global team of [more than] 300 research managers are constantly developing custom as well as branded items for these applications.”
In addition, Horizon Milling offers its customers two innovative products in this area: GrainWise Wheat Aleurone (for use in bread, tortillas, pizza and snacks, for example) and WheatSelect White Spring Whole Wheat Flour (for use in everything from bread, buns and bagels to cookies and crackers). The former innovation is derived from the nutritious aleurone layer of the wheat kernel and preserves the pleasing sensory qualities people enjoy in foods made from white flour.
“Nutrition scientists have confirmed that isolated aleurone is preferable to full brand because it contains higher levels of almost all the whole wheat nutrients believed to help promote better health,” he says. WheatSelect flour is 100% whole wheat and offers consistency in baking, as well as the soft texture and mild flavor that appeal to consumers, Marinkovich adds.
Grain Millers has made great progress in the cereal and bars business with its whole grain innovations. Although it is focused on fortifying its customers’ offerings with healthful grains, the miller also is concerned with making the end product taste good, says Darren Schubert, vice president of sales and marketing for the company’s Western operations.
“The biggest issue with whole grains is making sure that the product is stable, that the product is functional and, of course, that it meets all the requirements that the R&D people are being challenged with themselves,” he explains.
One thing’s for certain: Shoppers no longer are challenged by confusing product packaging, thanks to new labels on baked goods and snacks. Consumers want to know the truth. And although Col. Jessup may disagree, they can handle it. SF&WB
Products on Parade
Everywhere you look, whole grains are on display. In fact, as of Sept. 20, 2007, more than 1,400 items featuring whole grains had been introduced, according to Mintel Global New Products Database. A few noteworthy items:
Lean Pockets has come out with a line of sandwiches “Made with Whole Grain.” The line is composed of seven offerings: turkey, broccoli and cheese; turkey and ham with cheese; three-cheese and broccoli; chicken, broccoli and cheddar; ham and cheese; meatballs and Mozzarella; and supreme pizza.
Mars recently unveiled World of Grains, an all-natural line that consists of whole grain snacks in five varieties: Blueberry, Cranberry, Apple Cinnamon, Multigrain and Oatmeal Raisin. The snacks are supported online at www.WorldOfGrains.com, which explains the difference between grains such as rye and amaranth.
Sara Lee has introduced to in-store bakeries nationwide its thaw-and-sell Wholesome Indulgence Bakery Bars, made with whole grains, fruits and nuts. The un-cut bars are versatile; they can be sold as single-serve or grab-and-go, or in breakfast packs or larger variety packs. They come in three varieties: Cranberry Almond, Maple Apple Pecan and Mocha Latte.
In addition, Sara Lee recently added a new product to its bread lineup: Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Honey Made with Whole Grain White. Each two-slice serving contains 10 g. of whole grain.
Although Sara Lee has been called a leader in whole grain product innovation, the company currently is under attack for its Made with Whole Grains bread. On Dec. 17, 2007, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a release threatening suit against the company if “misleading claims” — such as saying products made with white whole-wheat flour and not whole grains have “whole grain goodness” — on Sara Lee’s Web sites continue.
According to CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, “This ‘whole grain’ bread is mostly refined white flour, the kind of flour that health authorities recommend Americans eat less of. Sara Lee is attempting to put a whole grain halo on a bread that is not whole wheat. I call that a whole grain whitewash.”
In a statement, Sara Lee called the CSPI’s recent letter to the company “offensive” and “uninformed.” The company noted that “we offer a wide range of 100% whole grain breads, enriched white breads and nutritionally transitional products made with a blend of whole wheat and enriched wheat flour that are designed to help consumers increase their consumption of whole grain breads without a radical change in taste and consistency, similar to how consumers transition from whole milk to skim milk using 2%.”
Since 2005, Sara Lee added, its Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White Bread “has contributed to the whole grain nutrition needs of many white bread lovers who might not otherwise have consumed that much whole grain.”
More Powerful Packaging
The Independent Bakers Association recently announced the completion of the Final Interim Rule for WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Food Packages, which has for three decades remained largely unchanged ... until now.
At a recent celebration, the Acting Secretary of Agriculture for the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that “new food packages, based on the Dietary Guidelines, will include fruits, vegetables and whole grains,”
ensuring that consumers of all income brackets can decipher food labels and take home products containing the nutrients essential to a healthy diet.
Whole grain breads that qualify for WIC must meet the labeling requirements for making a health claim as a “whole grain food with moderate fat content,” and the primary ingredient by weight must be whole grain.
For more information, visit www.IndependentBaker.org.