Flavor, familiarity, and health are the top inﬂuencers on food purchasing decisions according to the new 2021 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Survey by the Oldways Whole Grains Council. Given that whole grain products check all those boxes, it’s no surprise that people are gravitating more and more toward whole grain options.
The Oldways Whole Grains Council’s survey asked 1,505 American adults why and how often they choose whole grains, which grains they are familiar with, and when and where they are most likely to consume whole grains. It asked how the pandemic has impacted food habits, how considerations about the environment are inﬂuencing the way people approach food, and how whole grain labeling aids consumer conﬁdence in the products they are buying.
Whole grain consumption is on the rise
Since 2005, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have encouraged everyone to make at least half their grains whole grain. According to new survey data, 59 percent of American say they are meeting this goal, with 26 percent of consumers reporting that they nearly always choose whole grains whenever they are available. Additionally, more than half of consumers tell the council that they have increased their whole grain consumption in the past ﬁve years.
While health remains the leading reason for choosing whole grains (with 82 percent of consumers citing it), it’s not the only reason. Today, more people consider the ﬂavor of whole grains to be a beneﬁt (38 percent) than a barrier (33 percent), and the percentage of those who cite taste as a barrier has fallen signiﬁcantly since the Oldways Whole Grains Council’s last survey in 2018. In 2021, 33 percent of respondents say taste is a barrier, compared with 42 percent in 2018. Of those who say they nearly always choose whole grains, 45 percent see taste as a beneﬁt and only 18 percent see it as a barrier, suggesting that the more exposure you have to whole grains, the more you come to appreciate their nuttier, more robust ﬂavors.
Despite media hype around low-carb and grain-free fad diets, the reality is that 95 percent of consumers report that their whole grain consumption has either increased or is holding steady compared with ﬁve years ago. Interestingly, while it's often assumed that low-carb dieters have lower whole grain consumption, those survey respondents who say they avoid carbs are more likely to also report: (1) that they look for whole grains when shopping, (2) that they nearly always choose whole grain options, and (3) that their whole grain intake has increased in the last ﬁve years. This may indicate that people are diﬀerentiating based on the nutritional quality of diﬀerent carbohydrate sources, and gravitating toward high-quality carbs, like whole grains.
The pandemic is driving whole grain consumption
The 2021 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Survey found that the vast majority of consumers (88 percent) are most likely to consume whole grains when eating at home. With half of American consumers reporting that they are eating more home-cooked meals as a result of the pandemic, it seems only natural that 1 in 5 consumers says they are also eating more whole grains now than they did before the pandemic.
Sustainability is increasingly a motivation for choosing whole grains
Two-thirds of consumers consider whole grains to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. In 2018, when the Oldways Whole Grains Council surveyed consumers, 12 percent said that sustainability was one of the reasons they choose whole grain options. This number is rising quickly, with 19 percent of consumers now reporting that sustainability is a factor in choosing whole grains. Among young consumers (Gen Z and millennials) this is an even stronger motivator – 26 percent cite sustainability in their decision making.
Forty percent of plant-based eaters (those who follow a vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or plant-based diet) say they choose whole grains for environmental reasons. Overall, consumers who eat a plant-based diet prioritize foods that are healthy, whole grain, organic, and sustainable. Price is less of a concern for this group.
The Whole Grain Stamp
Since 2005, the Whole Grain Stamp has appeared on products that have undergone third-party certiﬁcation and contain signiﬁcant amounts of whole grain (at least 8g per labeled serving). New survey data indicate two-thirds of consumers say seeing third-party labeling, like the Whole Grain Stamp, gives them more conﬁdence in the products they are buying. The survey also found that a signiﬁcant majority of consumers (70 percent) wish information about the whole grain content of products was included on product packaging, making clear that the information provided on the Whole Grain Stamp is valuable to shoppers. By stating the whole grain gram content of products, the Whole Grain Stamp makes it easy to identify and compare whole grain products when shopping, while also providing the peace-of-mind that third-party labeling oﬀers consumers.
Trust in the Whole Grain Stamp has increased steadily, with 86 percent of all consumers now saying they trust the Whole Grain Stamp. Consumer trust is even higher among young consumers (89 percent) and parents of young children (91 percent). Three out of four consumers say they would use the Whole Grain Stamp as part of their purchasing decision, and most consumers say they would be skeptical of any whole grain claims made on a product that did not use the Whole Grain Stamp.
Click here to see the full survey results.
Results were derived from online surveys of 1,505 Americans, ages 18 to 88, commissioned by the Oldways Whole Grains Council and conducted by Prodege, LLC. The population surveyed was nationally census-representative for age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, and income. Of all respondents, 75 percent reported that they are the primary food purchaser for their household and 25 percent make about half the food purchasing decisions for their household. The survey was conducted from May 10–12, 2021.