General Mills goes whole grain

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All Big G breakfast cereals produced by General Mills are to be
made with whole grains as the company strives to create a
responsible image in the face of increasing public health concerns.
But the company claims it has not sacrificed taste, previously a
common criticism of whole grain foods.

In its own survey of 9,000 people, General Mills said that its whole grain cereals were just as popular with consumers as previous varieties, though it declined to go into any details about how it had ensured the continuity of taste and texture.

The move also means that General Mills, one of the world's largest cereal producers, becomes the first major company to make such a commitment to using whole grains, something which is supported by a number of US health experts.

"The evidence is compelling that diets rich in whole grain foods have a protective effect against several forms of cancer and heart disease,"​ said Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University. "By increasing whole grain consumption, we can expect to prevent a substantial number of premature deaths every year,"​ he added.

General Mills is keen to play on this health crusader image, claiming that, in a national survey, 91 per cent of Americans said they wanted more whole grains in their diet. American adults currently consume around one serving of whole grains daily, while children consume even less.

The company is also reacting to increased governmental concerns. At the end of August this year, a dietary guidelines advisory panel of the US government recommended that people eat at least three servings of whole grains daily.

This advice is likely to become official next January when the government updates the US dietary guidelines, and the policy is supported by a number of health organisations, such as the American Heart Association and American Society for Clinical Nutrition.

But there is also a need to be seen to be doing more to improve the nation's ailing health. Tom Vierhile, executive editor of US-based market analyst company, Productscan Online, told​ that "politically speaking, a lot of big food companies need to be seen to show some responsibility in trying to tackle a global obesity problem"​.

The move by General Mills means its entire portfolio of Big G breakfast cereals, including Trix, Golden Grahams and Rice Chex, will now be classed as either a 'good' or 'excellent' source of whole grains. These cereals join other General Mills' household brands, such as Cheerios, Wheaties and Total, which already use whole grains.

General Mills chairman and chief executive officer, Steve Sanger, said: "Consumers are looking for food products that can be part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle and this innovation brings important health news to the cereal aisle."

The company believes that with 93 per cent of Americans eating breakfast cereal, its new policy could add another 1.5 billion servings of whole grain to American diets every year.

And by tapping in to a potentially lucrative market, General Mills will also hope to try and turn around a 19 per cent decline in net profit for the 13 weeks up to 29 August this year, blamed on high raw material prices and fierce market competition.

Whole grains are known to contain a mix of naturally occurring antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibre and protein, very similar to fruit and vegetables.

According to David Jacobs Jr, of the University of Minnesota's Department of Epidemology, "research suggests it is all of the components of the whole grain that appear to act together to provide its disease-preventing capability"​.

Dr David Kessler, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, boldly stated that the move by General Mills was "the most comprehensive improvement in the nation's food supply since the government began mandatory fortification of grains in the 1940s"​.

The company has devised new packaging for its cereals to emphasise its new whole grains policy and these are expected to begin hitting retailers' shelves in the next few weeks.

It remains to be seen whether General Mills will also push whole grains in its long-term joint venture with Nestlé, leading producer of breakfast cereal brands such as Nesquik and Shreddies. Their joint company, Cereal Partners Worldwide, supplies cereals to more than 130 countries around the world.

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