Ingredients With a Purpose: Whole Grain Trends in Today’s Food Culture
The rise to diet stardom of previously obscure whole grains like quinoa (and a host of other so-called ancient grains like spelt, millet, bulgur, chia, buckwheat and many others) underscores the beneficial fit that whole grains enjoy in today’s wellness culture. Consumer interest in whole and ancient grains is increasingly tapping into broad macro trends in modern food culture and reflects much more than the mere avoidance of traditional grains or the embracing of alternative and whole grains. It reflects a modern eating landscape driven by wellness aspirations, meal fragmentation and premium snacking, and interests in “mindful sourcing.”
Consumers are increasingly interested in using the tools they have on hand — food, exercise, sleep and their personal network — to create a sense of wellness in their lives, and the consumption of whole, real, minimally processed foods like whole grains is seen as especially critical in today’s wellness culture. Consumers feel that these inherently functional foods provide essential nutrients, energy, etc, without some of the drawbacks of more scientifically modified foods. Ancient grains are sought specifically because their heritage and uniqueness cue whole, fresh and less processed — all qualities that consumers consider key to improving digestion and overall health and wellness.
From an optimal wellness perspective, consumers see the consumption of alternative and ancient grains as a tactic for:
- Getting more fiber
- Getting more naturally occurring protein
- Managing digestive distress
- Managing blood sugar
- Improving immunity
- Managing weight
- Improving heart health
Interest in less processed and more novel carbohydrates has had significant influence on diet trends over the last 20 years, and consumer understanding of grains spans the breadth of lifestyles in terms of engagement with wellness. Among less engaged wellness consumers, grains have a broadly constructed association with certain food categories (e.g., bread, rice, crackers, cereal). More engaged wellness consumers can identify grains as specific crops and ingredients. The most engaged, progressive wellness consumers can articulate more varieties of grains and their wide range of applications, nutrition, flavor and sourcing.
Dietary approaches undertaken as part of wellness regimes reflect interest in adding fiber and whole grains as well as incorporating diversity into diets. Our Health and Wellness 2017 report found that 63% of consumers say they’re seeking more fiber in their diet, 58% say the same about whole grains and 32% say they are seeking plant-based proteins.
As one Gen X consumer told us, “I try to avoid white carbs and flour, and I’m always looking for alternative sources of fiber. Especially with pasta and crackers, I tend to buy the higher-fiber, whole or alternative-grain varieties. I don’t buy bread as often and try to avoid empty calories that can’t sustain me. I always look for alternative sources of fiber.”
Other trends driving an interest in whole and ancient grains find that as consumers continually reexamine the role of grain in their diet, their interests in mindful sourcing have them asking meaningful questions about the origins of their food and linkages between agricultural methods, sustainability and wellness. Progressive wellness consumers are increasingly showing interest in farming practices that restore, rather than deplete, soil health.
Changes in how consumers eat today are also influencing consumption of ancient and whole grains: with over 50% of meal occasions now defined as snacking, consumers are expecting more from snacks in terms of digestion, fiber, satiation and even energy. Such expectations pale in comparison to how snacks in the past might have filled a role as a “treat.” Within snacking and the rise of premium attributes, the premiumization of the most basic pantry staples like crackers reflects the fact that for manufacturers, appealing to a healthier snacking culture requires innovation that highlights ingredients and methods of processing. The cracker category has upgraded products with unique flour alternatives that go beyond gluten-free analogues.
In their entirety, new quality distinctions found in whole and ancient grains leverage consumer beliefs about sustainability and wellness and are influencing progressive health and wellness consumers to delve deeper into good food stories that relate to grains. Going forward, food marketers should be aware of the complexities driving consumers’ views of whole and ancient grains by acknowledging the role of:
- Mindful Sourcing: And new quality distinctions in grains that leverage farm-driven narratives that link to sustainability and wellness and that enable engaged consumers to delve deeper into the good food story of grains
- Optimal Wellness: Modern ways of eating that reflect a desire to improve digestion, increase fiber and satiety and reduce systemic inflammation
- Premium Snacking: Appealing to a healthier snacking culture requires innovation that showcases the narrative of production, ingredients and method of processing
For the latest data and insights into this trend — and more — get Health + Wellness 2019. New syndicated research fielding Q1 2019. Click here for overview and order form.