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Let them eat bread: whole grains promise to revitalize a baked goods section long dogged by the perception of unhealthiness--if shoppers can be persuaded to try them.

If the experts are right, shoppers will soon be searching the baked goods aisle for products to fulfill their perceived needs for what's healthy and what will help them lose weight. And they'll be finding them, too. In the bakery aisle?

That's right. Thanks to the issuance just last month of the federal government's new dietary guidelines, which emphasize weight loss and exercise, baked goods--at least certain kinds of health-oriented baked goods--are primed for a spike in consumer interest and perhaps a new lease on post-carbmania life.

The good news for bread lovers is that the new nutritional guidelines encourage all of us to eat more whole grains as part of a multistep lifestyle prescription to improve our nutritional intake and our health.

Food and consumer experts alike expect positive things for many food categories as a result of the publicity now being generated by the guidelines, and the subsequent rising consumer awareness, both of which are likely to extend for months.

The new guidelines include 41 recommendations that urge Americans to eat more whole grains, as well as fruits, vegetables, beans, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products--in stark contrast to the Atkins and South Beach diets, which initially attracted millions of Americans and now appear on the decline.

The guidelines additionally recommend eating less highly processed foods with unhealthful fat, added sugar, and too much salt.

Ahead of the curve

Realizing what was coming, and also genuinely concerned about the growing obesity problem in the nation, many baked goods manufacturers began taking steps to get products out ahead of potential demand.

Sara Lee Corp. has launched seven new whole grain breads (three new Earthgrains and four new Sara Lee varieties). Campbell Soup Co.'s Pepperidge Farm, Inc. has introduced a line of whole grain breads and English muffins. ConAgra Foods, Inc. has said it will bring out Ultragrain, a whole grain flour designed to look like white flour while retaining the grain kernel, which includes the fiber-rich bran and germ.

Beyond the baked goods aisle, General Mills has reformulated its cereals to use whole grains, and Kellogg Co. is selling Tiger Power, a new whole grain cereal aimed at kids.

More broadly, General Mills has launched the new "10 in 10" Challenge program, encouraging consumers to lose up to 10 pounds in 10 weeks by following diets it has created and included in the program. The company has also created a new whole grain Web site,, which includes information on the diets.

More specific to baked goods, on Jan. 17 General Mills launched three Pillsbury whole grain bread products delivered to supermarket bakeries as frozen dough to be baked fresh, packaged, and put on shelves as ready-to-eat items for shoppers.

The products come with stickers noting that they contain whole grains, to be placed on the packaging. A company spokesperson said the products can be baked as an Italian loaf, a boule, a long French baguette, or baked in a traditional pan: "They're offered in three grain levels to satisfy a variety of consumer needs."

At Sara Lee the initiative to respond to consumer demand for healthier baked goods began more than two years ago. "We're trying to stay ahead of the curve, and we think we're really well positioned with our new Earth-grains and Sara Lee products," says company spokesman Matt Hall. "We have more products around the corner and will continue to expand our whole grain offering."

The company's new products are not only whole grain, but also fortified with folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, and extra fiber. "We're just going one step further," notes Hall.

Sara Lee has also launched a new Web site designed to provide "sound scientific information" to consumers and health professionals alike, says Hall. It can be viewed at

Informing consumers

While the dietary guidelines place renewed emphasis on the importance of whole grains in the diet, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue guidelines as to what constitutes a whole grain claim.

According to the agency's work plan for fiscal year 2005, developing a "strategy to initiate rulemaking on claims for whole grains" is on the "B" list of priorities for the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. That means the agency hopes to make "significant progress," but may not complete the project before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

With the help of an outside public relations firm, the two entities responsible for the guidelines, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have developed consumer brochures and fact sheets that are available at dietaryguidelines.

In addition, a new DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, aimed at combating high blood pressure, has been developed and is being promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. That plan includes whole wheat bread, English muffins, pita bread, bagels, cereals, grits, oatmeal, crackers, unsalted pretzels, and popcorn among its recommendations and recipes.

"I think we are already seeing some ramping up of more whole grain bakery products in the bread aisle," says Paul C. Abanante, president and c.e.o, of the Washington, D.C.-based American Bakers Association, which represents the nation's largest wholesale bakery companies. "The new guidelines will put further momentum behind it. There will be a sustained emphasis on whole grain bakery products. Consumers will be more cognizant of it and will be looking for those products." But he also emphasizes that there needs to be a "balance," that enriched grains are also needed, particularly to provide folic acid and other benefits.

Pleased that the dietary guidelines have "repudiated the carbohydrate-fad diets," Abanante predicts that more consumers will be "going back to baked goods." This will continue, he says, as companies remove trans fats from their products in anticipation of new labeling requirements slated to take effect next January.

In-store tastings

What should supermarkets do to take advantage of this renewed consumer interest in the bakery aisle?

Supermarket Guru and PROGRESSIVE GROCER columnist Phil Lempert believes the key is taste. "Sample, sample, sample," he advises. "There are still a vast amount of people out there who think that brown bread and whole grain bread taste funny. You've got to get over the taste barrier."

Lempert predicts that the consumer education campaign from the federal government to educate consumers about the components of a healthy diet and lifestyle offers a "huge opportunity" for retailers--and manufacturers, as well. "But people have got to taste it," he says. "I would be doing in-store demonstrations constantly. Once people taste whole grain products, they're hooked."

It's great that companies are reducing trans fats and sodium, he adds, but that's not enough. "If you want to win the game, you have to sample. You're talking about the mainstream consumer. You've got to go for the masses, the people who are buying Wonder Bread; that's who you have to go after."

Lempert advises companies to keep it simple, not to complicate the product with a lot of added components like nuts of other ingredients. "That gives the message to the consumer that something else has to be added for it to be good," he explains. "We know with these new guidelines, people are going to focus on calories. People are smarter than we give them credit for."

He points out that while increased numbers of consumers are likely to be looking for such products, a key target market for retailers should be baby boomers who are now in their 50s and beyond. "There are 76 million of them, and they're getting older and, frankly, closer to death. Getting more out of life is more important than ever, and they're being driven to eat healthy food." Lempert suggests that baked goods manufacturers should develop products and packaging with this segment in mind.

"Bread packaging should get smaller," he continues. "Many baby boomers aren't eating as many sandwiches as they used to, and their households are smaller. Many are living alone, and they don't want to waste food. So revisit the package size, and also how it closes."

Lempert additionally suggests that breadmakers take a page out of the cheesemakers' book and provide resealable bags to preserve the freshness of products after they've been opened.

He also notes that consumers will be looking at nutritional labels more frequently and intently than ever, and that manufacturers should make it easy to spot the expiration date on their products. "Now, sometimes you can't find it, it's not even in English, of it's color-coded. Why does it have to be that hard?"

Clearly the market for bread and other baked goods now has a vital opportunity. "People get it now," says Lempert. "If companies promote their products properly and stores do a good job of merchandising, there's no reason why they can't be successful."

For retailers, hiring a nutritionist and conducting store tours are good ideas, he adds. However, he advises retailers to make store tours as specific as possible, with a focus on losing weight or on understanding whole grains, for example.

"And always finish the tour with a taste, where somebody puts the product in their mouth and goes, 'Wow!'"

The whole grain facts

* 91 percent of Americans say they want more whole grain foods in their diets, but as nation Americans are not getting enough. The reality is that nine out of 10 people in the United States don't eat the minimum recommended daily amount of whole grain.

* Currently only 3 percent of the total calories consumed annually in the United States come from whole grain.

* Increasing whole grain consumption from the current one serving a day to three or more a day, as recommended by public health officials, can prevent a substantial number of premature deaths every year. Science shows a strong connection between whole grain and a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, which are the biggest preventable killers in the United States.

* The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition all support the recommendation to increase whole grains in the daily diet.

* Most grain foods, including whole grains, are naturally low in fat and cholesterol.

* Products labeled with the words "multigrain," "stone-ground," "100 percent wheat," "seven grain," "pumpernickel," "organic," or "bran" may actually contain little or no whole grain.

Twinkies: A long and healthy life

With all of the hoopla over healthy eating and whole grains, what of the product that many nutritionists might say is the icon of just the opposite--the infamous Twinkie?

Well, the Twinkie turns 75 in April, and it's still going strong. In fact, a company spokeswoman says that over 5 billion have been sold in the past decade and more than 500 million are produced every year. And that's not about to change, she adds.

Interstate Bakeries Corp., which makes Twinkies, is conducting a national search for the tastiest Twinkie recipes. The 75 most creative submissions will be featured in a special commemorative 75th anniversary cookbook.

Recipe submissions should include a list of all ingredients and step-by-step instructions, plus the creator's name, address and telephone number. The deadline for submission is March 31.
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Comment:Let them eat bread: whole grains promise to revitalize a baked goods section long dogged by the perception of unhealthiness--if shoppers can be persuaded to try them.
Author:Gatty, Bob
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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