The wholegrain truth

13 March, 2009
Andrew Williams asks whether a lack of scientific consensus on the health benefits of wholegrain and all the mixed marketing messages in advertising and on packs are holding back the growing wholegrain bakery category
Page 33 

The breakfast cereals industry was quick to fully capitalise on the potential for marketing the health benefits of wholegrain. In contrast, bakery is only now truly catching up, with a glut of wholegrain wrapped bread launches in recent months.

Kingsmill is the latest bread brand to kick off a major wholegrain marketing push this month, with a £4m spend on its aptly-named 'Wake up to Wholegrain' breakfast campaign, featuring on-pack support and a new logo on all Kingsmill Tasty Wholemeal and 50/50 packs. This follows hot on the heels of prominent healthy bread and wholegrain positioning from Warburtons and Hovis.

And why not? Evidence is piling up to suggest that regular consumption of wholegrains may prevent chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. Great news, but is anyone out there actually listening?

An ongoing European research project, Healthgrain, reported that consumers "did not perceive much difference between whole and refined grain products in their health-related characteristics, suggesting a lack of motivation for increasing wholegrain consumption". This means there is a big challenge ahead in educating consumers in the UK, it stated, where awareness was much lower than in countries such as Finland.

Despite the myriad health benefits of wholegrain, when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked what foods people were trying to eat more of in 2007, only 8% of the 1,393 participants questioned mentioned wholemeal/wholegrain bread - and that dropped to 5% for brown bread. The FSA is arguably partly at fault. It does not approve guidance on how much wholegrain people should consume every day. So how do you communicate to the public why they should eat more wholegrains?

UK efforts included borrowing a labelling scheme from the US - the Whole Grain Stamp, which saw a brief run on Morrisons' in-store breads in 2008. That fell foul of the FSA guidance, because it recommended eating 48g of wholegrains per day. A recent review by the British Nutrition Foundation was less than glowing about the status quo. It stated: "In the UK, guidelines on consumption of wholegrain products remain vague, despite progress made in other countries to quantify a recommended intake." As a result, over 90% of UK adults were not eating enough wholegrain foods (based on the US recommendation of 48g or three 16g servings per day).

But the argument for portion labelling is persuasive: US consumption of wholegrains was static between 1998 and 2005. While average consumption still remains low, at around one portion a day, awareness is growing. Following the launch of the Stamp by the Whole Grains Council (WGC), which now appears on over 2,400 products, it rose 20% from 2005 to early 2008.

"We are lagging behind the US here in the UK," says Chris Seal, professor of food and human nutrition at Newcastle University and a leading expert on wholegrain nutrition. "This is partly because the UK is a bit more reluctant to embrace the epidemiological evidence base for the benefits of wholegrains in the same way they have in the US. The FSA is much more evidence-based and - perhaps rightly - wants to see more and better research data based on dietary interventions, both to confirm the beneficial effect and also to demonstrate close relationships."

To this end, the FSA is awaiting the results of two major wholegrain research projects to assess the effects of eating three or more portions of wholegrain foods on the risk of heart disease, before considering the health implications of changing its advice on wholegrains.

"There has been research linking intake of wholegrain foods and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease [sources: Anderson et al 2000/2003 and Mellen 2008]," explains Hattie Lambrou, a spokesperson for the FSA. "However, these findings are based on analyses of observational studies, which are prone to a number of errors, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions. There have been a few trials, which have investigated the effects on the health of people eating wholegrains, but they have only included a small number of people and been of short duration.

"Even if the [FSA] trials produced significant findings, very careful consideration of all the evidence and wider discussions within the FSA and Department of Health would be required before making any additional recommendations on consuming wholegrain foods," she adds.

Meanwhile, the Whole Grains Council in the US has compiled its own research into wholegrains and health. "The research on health benefits and wholegrains just gets stronger and stronger," states WGC director Cynthia Harriman. "It's especially interesting to note a range of clinical trials that are now beginning to augment the extensive epidemiological research out there."

As such, the WGC is ploughing ahead with its support for wholegrain marketing in the UK by making the Stamp available minus the "48 grams daily" text under the graphic; it's now a straightforward content declaration statement with two options - one has a suggested portion size and the other has a "per 100g" label (see pg 34).

In the absence of portion guidance, the UK's Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) has followed the lead of the US on its consumer-facing campaign and website, www.wholegraingoodness.com, launched in 2004. "When we set up the campaign, one of the key things that people asked us was 'How much is eating 'more' wholegrains?'" says Roz Reynolds, marketing development manager at HGCA. "So we've adopted the US message of, 'Try to increase to 48g per day'. It's difficult at the moment to make any claims. We recommend any food that contains over 51% wholegrains, but that's not an overly clear message; the Stamp has worked well [in the US] and that has even translated into foodservice."

A number of major players in the food-service market there - a notoriously tricky sector to communicate health messages - have embraced the Stamp, including: Pizza Hut (partially wholegrain crust), Burger King (wholegrain pizza stick) and pizza chain Papa John's (100% wholegrain base).

That's not to say wholegrain marketing has been plain sailing in the US - especially over 'made with wholegrain' claims. Last year, Sara Lee had to change its label follo-wing a challenge by a consumer group over the wholegrain content of its white breads 'made with wholegrain' (only 30% wholegrains content). This has reportedly led to manufacturers adopting more accurate wholegrain claims on pack.

Clearly communicated health messages could be the difference between success and failure in wholegrain marketing in future, notes Ade Abass, general manager of British Bakels, which was the first UK firm to adopt the Stamp in 2008 and supports its Multi Wholegrain mix with point-of-sale materials. "We launched our Country Oven Multiseed bread several years ago and initial sales were disappoin-ting," he recalls. "It was only when we printed some 1.4m leaflets explaining the benefits of eating breads high in fibre that we saw an uplift in sales and they have rocketed ever since. It's now our top-selling line."

While suppliers can do their bit, Abass believes the lack of portion guidance is a problem. "In the US, the message is simple: eat three portions of wholegrains a day," he says. "In the UK, the FSA says 'People with a healthy heart tend to eat more wholegrain foods as part of a healthy lifestyle'. This is not the easiest message to understand, as there is no call to action telling people what to do. We already have to 'eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day' - why can't we do the same for wholegrains?"

The Whole Grains Council's Stamp is now increasing its presence outside the US, mainly due to the absence of similar schemes locally. This poses the question: why can't a Europe-wide organisation be established to market wholegrains? "It would make sense to have a single representative European body so we can then affiliate ourselves with the Americans and have a co-ordinated and consistent approach towards the marketing of wholegrain benefits globally, probably funded by the key players in the game," argues Andy Janes, marketing manager at malt supplier Muntons. "Ultimately, the consumer is the one who will benefit from increased awareness."

Currently the EU-funded five-year Healthgrain project, launched in 2005, is looking into both consumer perceptions and the development of healthy grain products, but is thought unlikely to result in any unified wholegrain labelling scheme. However, Alistair Dickie, crop marketing director of the HGCA, says he would welcome a debate on any proposed wholegrain marketing initiative. A crunch summit on wholegrains also takes place later this month (see panel above).

In the meantime, what can be done? Well, the Danes have gone large on promoting wholegrain and cleverly side-stepped the issue of portion advice in their campaign. They discovered that if a country's national dietary guidelines called for people to eat more wholegrains, then packaging that helped consumers find them was viewed as 'supporting the local guidelines', rather than making a health claim per se. Consequently, the Danes inserted a strong recommendation for wholegrains (75g a day) and began an aggressive wholegrain education campaign, complete with a packa-ging symbol.

So the lesson is clear: if at first you don't succeed, as the UK did with the Stamp, try, try, try again. Failing that, bend the rules.

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=== Marketing wholegrain ===

l Allied Bakeries is plunging £4m into a marketing drive on wholegrain with its 'Wake up to wholegrain' campaign, promoting Kingsmill Tasty Wholemeal as a breakfast option. A TV advert is currently on air until the end of April, devised by M&C Saatchi to capitalise on data that suggests consumption of bread at breakfast has been in gradual decline; 31% of all bread is consumed at breakfast, making it the largest bread consumption occasion, claims Michael Harris, Kingsmill's marketing controller.

"We all know that wholemeal bread is good for us, and two slices gives us all of our daily wholegrain, making it an ideal breakfast product," he says.

l In January, Premier Foods launched a £1.5m marketing campaign featuring Spice Girl Emma Bunton, to encourage shoppers to switch from white bread to Hovis Wholemeal. Hovis aimed to convert some of the 18% of consumers who currently buy both white and wholemeal bread exclusively to Wholemeal for the campaign duration. The eight-week campaign came with a 'feel healthier or your money back' guarantee and encouraged consumers to sign up for the challenge at hoviswholemealchallenge.com. It also featured promotional packaging, press advertising, train station sampling, in-store point-of-sale, a digital campaign and PR activity.

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=== Marketing wholegrain ===

l Warburtons now details the wholegrain content in the ingredients panel on its Wholemeal range packaging, having launched Warburtons 600g Wholegrain Goodness, which contains 56% wholegrain, malted wheat flakes and sunflower seeds. A spokesperson says: "Warburtons is committed to working constructively with the Food Standards Agency, The Federation of Bakers and other stakeholders to ensure the availability of clearer nutritional information to assist consumers with making informed purchases on wholemeal and wholegrain bread products."

l Muntons, which supplies malt flours, kibbles and flakes, was the first manufacturer of raw materials to sign up to use a 100% Whole Grains Stamp, adopted from the US. Andy Janes, marketing manager of Muntons, says: "Breakfast cereals manufacturers have invented their own logo to promote wholegrain goodness. There's no consistency of symbolism for the benefits of wholegrain [across industries] - there appears to be no representative body that is pulling together everything that is going on in wholegrain within Europe."

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=== Defining wholegrain ===

In 2002, the UK Joint Health Claims Initiative defined wholegrain as containing bran, germ and endosperm in the same relative proportion as the naturally occurring grain. The major cereal grains wheat, rice, maize and oats were included. The JHCI approved the claim that "people with a healthy heart tend to eat more whole grain foods as part of a healthy lifestyle". It is possible that a wholegrain health claim will be included in Article 13 of the European Commission-compiled list of health claims, based on generally accepted scientific evidence, anticipated in 2010, and would apply across the European Union. "This may have a significant impact on future consumer perceptions of the health benefits of a diet based on cereal foods," says the British Nutrition Foundation.

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=== The case for craft bakery marketing ===

David Smart, production director of Lancashire-based Greenhalgh's craft bakers, sees wholegrain as "an important and growing part of our business", but says, "The key to future success lies in educating the public about the benefits of a wholegrain diet."

White bread currently accounts for some 80% of his sales because "customers understand what they are getting", he says. "We need to promote our breads as effectively as the major breakfast cereal manufacturers, such as Weetabix and Nestlé, who invest heavily in consumer advertising. When we promote healthy breads, we see sales rise."

In January, Greenhalgh's promoted a Country Oven Low Gi Multiseed bread, supplied by British Bakels, which led to a 25% uplift in sales, he says. The promotion included a free prize draw to win gym memberships and health spa visits, sponsored by Bakels.

Smart believes ingredients suppliers have a major role to play in helping bakery retailers develop sales of wholegrain breads, but also feels the UK Government should do more to educate the public. "The UK consumer prefers a 'soft' sell, where the benefits of eating wholegrains are subtly explained to them. This is crucial to success," he says.

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=== Marketing wholegrain ===

l In the UK and Ireland, Cork-based Pain Delice has been tackling the issue of marketing healthy breads into foodservice with its new Polarbröd range (see Product News pg 15). "This is a rye-based product and there has been a huge increase in interest for healthier products," says business development manager Kenneth O'Connor. "We try to educate the customer, who in turn educates the consumer. We're developing A4 descriptors to display the message to the consumer."

l Foodservice markets are opening up to more healthy bread options, believes Steven Mackintosh, managing director of Mantinga, which supplies thaw-and-serve spelt, cholesterol-reducing, fibre-plus, Omega 3 and seeded country breads. He says: "The health benefits for grains and seeds have been widely publicised over the past couple of years and the interest is rapidly growing as our customers, such as delicatessens, farm shops, restaurants and hotels, respond to their own customer demands."

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=== Do the maths ===

l In the last 12 months, 61% of UK households purchased multi-seeded breads, making seeds and grains the fourth-biggest sector of the bread category with 184.1 million loaves sold last year

l The market has grown in value by 20.7% to almost £178m, with a volume growth of 4.2%

Source: BakeMark/TNS Superpanel, 52 w/e 28 December 2008

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=== Resources ===

l www.healthgrain.org

l www.food.gov.uk (references N02035 and N02036)

l www.wholegrainscouncil.org

l www.wholegraingoodness.com

l Whole Grains Conference, March 24-27, Newcastle University: www.cerealsandeurope.net/springmeeting & chris.seal@newcastle.ac.uk

l British Nutrition Foundation review: Cereals - current and emerging national issues

 

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=== Marketing wholegrain ===

l "In the UK, wholegrain (or brown bread) has not been the predominant focus of marketing activity and therefore consumers' attention, though it does enjoy a healthy consumption rate," says Melanie Somerville, marketing manager at ADM, which has seen its Millers Gold roller ground wholemeal flour grow to become one of its top 10 products. "In the US, wholegrain bread is heavily marketed, fully supported and backed by the government."

l BakeMark UK says craft bakers should utilise healthy bread mixes to broaden their ranges. "The latest market data indicates that consumers are continuing to switch to healthier bread options, not only for health reasons but also because the overall eating experience is very important to them - these two key forces are currently driving growth and creating excitement in a generally mature and previously declining market," says David Astles, marketing manager for artisan breads. He adds that the firm supplies bakers with recipe options with variable doses to adapt range and pricing.





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