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Whole Grain Foods on the Rise

Recovering from the low-carb sales drought, more than 1,200 new whole grain products were introduced over the past two years, and sales in most categories made with whole grains are increasing across the board, according to an ACNielsen report.

The growing awareness that eating more whole grains can provide important health benefits has led to many new products on retail shelves. Manufacturers have launched new brands of bread, crackers, pasta, and cereals, foods whose sales have been hit hard in recent years by the emphasis on low-carb eating.

These efforts are paying off. According to ACNielsen Label Trends, revenues for several whole-grain categories have increased in the combined food/drug/mass merchandiser channels (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ending June 18, 2005.

The bread and baked goods category increased 18.3 percent to $1.1 billion, and crackers rose 10.2 percent to $330 million. In smaller volume categories, pasta went up 34.1 percent to $54 million and frozen prepared foods skyrocketed 76.4 percent to $60 million.

Nutritionists say people who eat a lot of whole grains typically are leaner and have a lower risk of coronary disease. Whole grains contain antioxidants and phyto-chemicals that protect against heart disease.The fiber in whole grains has been linked to reducing the risk of other serious ailments including breast and colon cancer.

They recommend eating whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereals, as well as brown rice and oatmeal. Whole grains contain all of the three parts of the kernel: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Heavy processing or refining removes most of the bran and some of the germ, and much of the nutrients.

According to ACNielsen LabelTrends, there were 660 new whole grain UPCs launched in the 52 weeks ending June 18, 2005, and 678 introduced the prior 52-week period. Some notable new products include all of the breakfast cereals from General Mills; a whole-grain line of croutons, frozen breads and crackers from Pepperidge Farm; Lean Cuisine's Spa Cuisine Classics, a line of frozen meals with 100 percent whole-grain rice or pasta; whole-grain white bread from Sara Lee and Interstate Bakery Corp., the maker of Wonder Bread.

The trend to eating more whole grains got a boost this past January from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recommend consuming at least three servings of whole grains daily.

The effect on sales was immediate. According to ACNielsen data, sales of key whole-grain categories in the first quarter of 2005 increased noticeably compared to the previous quarter: frozen wholegrain prepared foods were up 168 percent; whole grain pasta, up 27.4 percent; whole-grain cereal, up 8.3 percent; and whole-grain bread and baked foods, up 7.4 percent.

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