Whole grains, naturally

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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Build it, and they will come. Make whole-grain foods more attractive to consumers, and they will eat them. That, in essence, was the challenge thrown down by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to producers of grain-based foods. The guidelines recommended eating six servings daily of grains and that three of those be whole grains. At the time, Americans consumed barely a half-serving a day, and on any given day, 40% of the population ate no whole grains at all.

The directions taken by formulators and marketers to develop appealing whole-grain foods have been many and varied. Recently, several companies have brought out new products that marry the concept of "natural" to the reality of whole grains. These items use the healthy glamour of natural to enhance the appeal of whole grains.

One of the first announcements made by Interstate Bakeries Corp., Kansas City, MO, after coming out of bankruptcy in early February was introduction of a new line of premium breads branded Nature’s Pride. The company described the new line as "first 100% natural brand of bread available across the country." The bread contains no artificial flavors or colors, no high-fructose corn syrup, no trans fats and no artificial preservatives.

Nature’s Own is one of the leading brands at Flowers Foods, Thomasville, GA. The brand, introduced in 1977, now encompasses a full range of baked foods. Depending on formulation, labels draw attention to "made with whole grains" or "100% whole grain." No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives are used, and the products contain no trans fats or cholesterol. The company built an entire Web site, www.naturesown.com, around the brand, a site that features a special interactive nutrition center.

This January, the Pizza Hut restaurant chain introduced The Natural, a pizza featuring a whole-grain crust to complement its all-natural toppings. Announcing the new menu choice, the company cited NPD data indicating 64% of consumers want more whole grains in their diet. Each slice carries 8 g of whole grains.

All-natural, whole-grain formulation characterized the winner of the California Raisin Marketing Board’s 2008 raisin bread contest in the commercial category: Salsa Latina Raisin Bread, developed by Patrick Finney, PhD, senior scientist, vice-president of product innovation, Roman Meal Co., Tacoma, WA. It contains raisins at the 50% level (flour weight basis) required by the Standards of Identity (21 CFR 136.160) plus fresh fresh jalapeño peppers, onions and tomatoes. "We have not commercialized the concept yet," said Gary Jensen, president of Roman Meal, "but this speaks to getting ‘outside the box’ with whole-grain products."

Also in the past year, Roman Meal introduced Elements hot cereal made with organic whole grains, real fruit, nuts and seeds, and without artificial colors or flavors."This product fits at the intersection of convenience and nutrition," Mr. Jensen said.

Cynthia Harriman, director, food and nutrition strategies, Whole Grains Council, Boston, MA, cited several new whole-grain products that also tout a natural angle. Bake’n Joy, North Andover, MA, developed its All Natural Whole Grain line of pre-deposited muffins and cookies. "The muffins are 100% whole grain and offer 20 g of whole grains per serving," she noted. Harlan Bakeries, Avon, IN, brought out a line of All Natural Crème Cakes, each containing 34 to 38 g of whole grains per serving. King Arthur Flour, Norwich, VT, whose vice-president Michael Bittel is the current WGC president, offers consumers a wide assortment of all-natural whole-grain mixes. The council maintains a list of such products at www.wholegrainscouncil.org/find-whole-grains/stamped-products. "There are so many cool whole-grain baked products out there these days," she said.

"It has been interesting to see how different companies have positioned whole grains based on the type of application, target market and overall marketing strategy," observed Nick Weigel, director of technical services,ADM Milling Co., Overland Park, KS. "Some applications are simply better suited for a ‘made with whole grains’ approach, while others are able to be formulated as 100% whole grain products." He noted that some target markets, such as kids, will only embrace a gradual transition to whole grains.

The term "whole grains" has been well defined by AACC International, the Whole Grains Council and the Food and Drug Administration, but the term "natural" has not. But this does not pose as many difficulties as could be imagined.

For one thing, consumers can easily self-define "natural," according to industry experts. Bakers should not find it hard to marry the two terms, according to Julie Miller Jones, PhD, professor emeritus, The College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN. "Consumers already think that ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ mean whole grains." Dr. Jones, a past president of AACC International, chaired its Whole Grain Task Force, which wrote the group’s definition of whole grains.

"We believe that most informed consumers have a gut sense of the importance of foods being ‘natural’ and that the term has inherent meaning," Dr. Finney stated. "Thus, we value the term and continue to use it because we believe at its core it conveys meaning and value and implies that the food has not been deliberately altered during production or processing. We believe the term suggests that the food in question is unadulterated, and at most, that it is mildly processed but not chemically or ‘severely’ processed." Ms. Harriman stated succinctly, "My advice on all-natural formulating would be: When in doubt, leave it out." She continued, "I think that all whole grains are equally good at building a ‘natural’ image, as long as they’re clearly identified as whole grains."

To take advantage of the appeal of whole grains, Ms. Harriman urged use of the adjective "whole" whenever possible in labeling."One of the big omissions that we see when we review labels of whole grain products is listing ‘millet’ or ‘quinoa’ or ‘amaranth’ on the label without saying ‘whole millet’ or ‘whole quinoa’ or ‘whole amaranth.’ Even familiar grains should be clearly labeled as whole when they are such as ‘whole grain brown rice’ or ‘whole grain oats.’ Consumers read many articles saying ‘look for the word whole on the label,’ and figure they’re being tricked when they don’t see it."

Describing products as natural creates certain expectations among consumers. "As an industry, we have an obligation to consumers not to play fast and loose with natural as a marketing term," Mr. Jensen said. "We have to treat natural with respect. If you place the word natural on packaging or use it in advertising, it behaves like a trump card with consumers."

Dr. Finney stated that Roman Meal is mindful of the value and confidence that the term natural gives consumers. "Actually we believe many of our consumers already look for products that are natural," he continued, "and that they believe that those natural foods are both valuable and wholesome and do not contain synthesized compounds such as ‘baking aids’ whose names they cannot, nor care to, pronounce."

Whole-grain ingredients offer a real advantage for natural foods. "Why? Because natural consumers usually base their preference in a desire for health," Ms. Harriman said, "and such consumers understand that whole grains offer many health advantages over refined grains."

Whole-grain flours made from hard red winter wheat have long been offered by millers, but the wheat’s bran contains a bitter red pigment. The advent of hard white winter wheat, which lacks that pigment, brought a better-tasting whole-wheat flour to market. Mr. Weigel explained that whole-grain flours like ADM’s Kansas Diamond made it possible to introduce higher levels of whole grains into mainstream product segments that have traditionally used refined white flours.

Whole-wheat flours milled from hard white wheat are available from several millers, including ADM Milling (Kansas Diamond); ConAgra Mills, Omaha, NE (Ultragrain); Farmer Direct Foods, Atchison, KS (Nature s’Wheat); and Horizon Milling, Wayzata, MN (Wheat Select). ConAgra Mills recently added a line, branded Ancient Grains, consisting of 100% whole-grain flours milled from amaranth, quinoa, millet, sorghum and teff.

When discussing whole grains, a distinction is sometimes drawn between true cereals such as wheat, rice, barley, corn, rye, oats, millet, sorghum, teff, plus a few others, and the pseudocereals such as amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. AACC’s task force decided to include both categories in its whole-grain definition because the grain heads of pseudocereals are used in the same traditional ways as cereals in making bread, starch staples and side dishes.

"Labeling of multigrain breads is tricky because some seeds are not grains," Dr. Jones said. Label statements for such products should detail the amount of total whole grain from all grain types, or else the consumer may not be able to accurately assess how much whole grain is in the product.

"What is important is to go for the 8-g minimum level of whole grain per serving," Dr. Jones said. As for other ingredients, her advice was to avoid dough conditioners and similar materials. "Otherwise, the sky is the limit (on natural ingredients), as long as the formulator puts in the required whole grains."

Among the interesting whole-grain ingredients is bulgur, which many bakers use in multigrain bread production. "We see growth in this category and also specialty lines like a whole grain ciabatta," said Mike Orlando, vice-president, Sunnyland Mills, Fresno, CA.

All Sunnyland products are whole grain and offered in a variety of colors and particle sizes. The newest is Kamut, and organic styles are also available. "All our products are produced without any additives of any kind," Mr. Orlando stated.

Bulgur should be soaked prior to addition to doughs, with coarser grades requiring up to a half hour in hot water, but the finest grade needs only 10 minutes. The baker must compensate for the soaking water by subtracting it from the formulation. With retail and artisan formulations, which get longer floor time, the bulgur can be added without soaking as long as the baker increases the water enough to yield a well-hydrated dough.

Despite today’s emphasis on cost savings, which seems to be slowing the surge of new product introductions, according to Mr. Weigel, the future of whole-grain products is bright. "It appears that the whole-grain trend will remain at the forefront as consumer awareness regarding health and nutrition continues to evolve," he said. "People are starting to understand that balance, moderation and healthy lifestyle habits are the keys to long-term success — and I believe that whole grains will be viewed as a key component of a healthy diet."

Pizza crusts, tortillas and even sweet goods benefit from the use of ingredients like white whole-wheat flour. "I see the snack segment as having high potential for whole grains," Mr. Weigel added. Healthier snacks — formulated to be wholegrain and all-natural — can deliver convenience and value. "When you think about nutrient density and satiety and how they relate to the perceived value of a snack item, whole grains have an important role to play in the development of these products," he concluded.

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