Whole grains continued their strong growth last year, with the number of new whole grain products launched almost matching the peak of 2006.
Data from Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals a relative plateau has been reached in the category, with last year's 601 new products being only slightly down on the 620 launched the year before.
While this indicates a continued strong response from the industry to meet increased consumer demand for the healthy grains, it also indicates a certain level of stability has been reached in the market.
Between 2003 and 2006, the number of new whole grain product launches fairly doubled every year - from 64 in 2003, to 140 in 2004, to 346 in 2005, to 620 in 2006.
This reflects the race by food manufacturers to carve out a slice of the market during the initial period of rapid growth, which ran parallel to the growth in consumer awareness of the healthy grains.
But today consumers are becoming used to seeing whole grain products in the supermarkets, and manufacturers are becoming increasingly familiar with adjusting their formulations to include more of the grains.
As a consequence, the category looks likely to quietly slip into the mainstream, with popularity remaining high but growth slowing.
Whole grains are found in products such as whole wheat, oatmeal, popcorn and brown rice. They consist of any grain that has retained its starchy endosperm, fiber-rich bran and its germ after milling.
These grains have long been known to provide high levels of fiber, but new research in recent years has also revealed that they provide vitamins, minerals and high levels of antioxidants.
The grains have also been shown to help reduce the risk factors for a number of diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
On the back of this new science, the US government advised in its 2005 Dietary Guidelines that Americans should consume upwards of three ounce-equivalents of whole grain products per day.
Currently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits foods containing at least 51 percent whole grains by weight and are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol to carry a health claim linking them to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
According to Mintel's product tracking data, food categories most likely to include whole grains are breads and cold cereals, with around 100 new products in each of these categories launched last year.
Cereal and energy bars were the next most popular category, with 69 new products, while savory snacks came fourth with 63.
Other categories with new whole grain product launches include: pasta; baking ingredients and mixes; savory biscuits & crackers; hot cereals; baby food; and prepared meals.
Examples of new product launches include Sara Lee's State Fair whole grain corn dogs; General Mills' Oat Cluster Cheerios Crunch breakfast cereals; Frito Lay's Sun Chips snacks; Pepperidge Farm's Light Style bread; and Kraft Food's Ritz savory biscuits.
As the popularity of whole grains increases, the scientific community continues to conduct more and more studies on the health benefits of the grains.
Earlier this month, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that an increased intake of wholegrain products, in combination with a reduced calorie diet, led to weight loss and cut levels of a protein associated with heart disease.
Another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published in November found that An increased intake of wholegrain-rich foods has been linked to improvements in blood vessel health,
In addition, a diet rich in whole grains and fiber could cut the risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 40 per cent, according to a report published in November in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
And a study published in the Archives of Intern Medicine in October found that consuming at least one serving of whole grains cereal a day could reduce a man's risk of heart failure by 30 per cent, says a new study from the US.
Data source : Mintel's Global New Product Database (GNPD )