Wheat products back in favor after diet fad

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Whole grain

Wheat flour consumption is increasing in the US following a dip that was driven by a trend for low-carbohydrate diets, according to the USDA, as demand for higher fiber, protein and whole grains rises.

After a five-year decrease, figures for 2007 show that per capita wheat flour use has gone up 2.3 pounds to 137.9 pounds in a year, according to estimates from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). Similarly the number of new wheat-flour products introduced has increased.

The use of whole grains, which includes wheat, has also seen a popularity spurt amid the health and wellness trend, reflected in the 2005 national nutritional guidelines.

However there is still some way to go to achieve previous levels for per capita wheat flour use, according to ERS researchers, as the 2007 total is down 8.9 pounds from a high in 1997.

The authors of the report, featured in the latest edition of the ERS publication Amber Waves, said: “Between 1972 and 1997, US wheat producers and millers could count on rising per capita food use of wheat flour to expand their domestic market.

“Contributing to this growth was the boom in away-from-home eating, the desire of consumers for greater variety and more convenient food products, promotion of wheat flour and pasta products by industry organizations, and wider recognition of health benefits stemming from eating high-fiber, grain-based foods.”

This growth appears to have ended in 1997 due to changing consumer preferences, including more weight-conscious people following diets such as low-carbohydrates.

Consumer interest in these diets appeared to peak in 2000 but it helped reduce per capita wheat consumption which reached a low of 134.2 pounds in 2005.

Similarly, between 2000 and 2006, 12 percent of the 223 mills listed in the Grain and Milling Annual closed, reducing milling capacity by seven percent.

The report said: “The baking industry responded by developing products to satisfy these new dietary preferences, particularly the increased demand for higher fiber and protein.”

But there seems to have been a turnaround as, according to Datamonitor, 558 wheat-flour products were introduced in 2007 compared to 97 new wheat-flour products in 1997. Similarly eighty-six whole-wheat flour products were introduced in 2007, up from 16 in 1997.

Whole grains

Although US consumers still prefer refined-wheat flour products over whole-wheat flour goods, new product launches of foods making a "whole grain"​ claim have grown sharply since 2000.

According to the Mintel Global New Products Database, in 2007 nearly 15 times as many new whole grain products were introduced worldwide compared to 2000.

This change is reflected in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommends that whole grains account for half of all grains consumed.

Healthy consumption

Research has also shown that more consumers in the US are trying to increase their consumption of whole grains as part of a healthy diet.

Foods and beverages with added health and wellness benefits continue to influence purchase decisions, according to The 2008 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food, Nutrition & Health,​ which was commissioned by the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Yet while awareness of various carbohydrates remained stable over the last couple of years, awareness of fiber and whole grains were an exception as they increased “significantly”,​ the survey found.

Wheat prices

Meanwhile, like many other commodities, wheat prices have soared. Last year wheat stocks hit a 30 year low, creating a bullish market on fears that buffer stocks were far from sufficient to meet global demand, and sending prices soaring.

Now 2008 wheat stocks are expected to be built by about 140 million tonnes which has been a key element in contributing to an easing of wheat futures prices over the past month or so.

ERS calculates per capita use by dividing the total annual availability by the US population in the same year. These per capita availability estimates provide an indication of trends in Americans’ consumption of various foods over time.

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