Consumers know whole grains are healthier than refined grains. Two years ago, almost three-quarters of US consumers surveyed said that eating whole grains daily was important to them - yet only 8% reported that finding whole grains was easy*.
Our organisation, the Whole Grains Council, and its parent, non-profit organisation Oldways, set out to turn the situation around. We launched the Whole Grain Stamp - an eye-catching black and gold symbol shaped like a postage stamp. Products that contain at least 8g of whole grain ingredients - a half portion in the US - may be registered with the council to use the stamp. An alternative stamp, with "100%" across the middle, can be used on products containing at least 16g of whole grain, when all the grain is whole grain.
For the Whole Grain Stamp, we needed to create a symbol that worked on three levels: with consumers, manufacturers and government regulators. All three presented challenges. For months, we worked to gain industry consensus on standards and minimums to be represented by the stamp, then additional months to develop a graphic that proved effective in communicating with consumers. Then, government regulations changed, sending us in search of an approach that would provide consumers with even more information, while moving the stamp programme away from any regulatory uncertainty.
Today, over 150 companies are members of the Whole Grains Council, and consumers contact us regularly, telling us that the stamp guides their buying decisions.
According to Mintel, whole grain product launches in the US doubled in 2006 over 2005. While some attribute the increase in whole grain popularity to its strong endorsement in the 2005 US Dietary Guidelines, the efforts of Oldways and the Whole Grains Council in educating consumers about whole grains and in promoting the Whole Grain Stamp have made a big difference. The stamp now appears on around 250 breads, 50 flours, 50 wraps, tortillas and flatbreads in America, as well as many cakes, muffins, cookies and bars.
These three elements have worked successfully for us:
l Rather than bashing refined grains, we’ve worked to promote the heartier, nutty taste of whole grains. Playing nutrition police and spouting "Thou shalt not" is rarely, if ever, successful.
l Educating consumers is only half the battle. If we convince people to eat more whole grains and yet there are few good choices in-store, we’ve wasted our time. Oldways has provided incentives for manufacturers to do the right thing - and consumer programmes to ensure healthier products don’t languish on grocery shelves.
l The Whole Grain Stamp is on the package, in front of consumers’ eyes, just when they make a buying decision. By late 2006, shoppers interviewed in focus groups reported that the Stamp would "make me pick it up and look at it", and that it would make the difference when they were trying to decide between two similar products.
In Britain today, 27% of consumers eat absolutely no whole grains and adults aged 16 to 64 average only 2.5 servings per week** - less than the amount scientists recommend per day. There is no reason that the Whole Grain Stamp could not be equally successful in the UK, in helping consumers easily find a range of whole grain products suited to their tastes. n
Sources: *Harris Interactive poll of 1,804 US consumers, conducted for Uncle Ben’s in 2005; **according to Healthgrain.org, a collaboration of 43 organisations in 15 EU countries
? Cynthia W Harriman is director of food and nutrition strategies for Oldways and the Whole Grains Council