Oldways Whole Grains Council conducted an online survey of 1,505 US adults (ages 18-88) in May 2021 to determine the level of whole grain consumption among US consumers and to further understand which eating occasions prompted more whole grain usage.
Between half and two-thirds (59%) of Americans are meeting the current USDA Dietary Guidelines for whole grains consumption (which recommends that Americans make half or more of their grains, whole), according to the Whole Grains Council.
Over one-quarter of respondents to the survey said they nearly always choose whole grains whenever possible. These figures are even higher among younger generations: 64% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers report making half of their grains whole. Additionally, 67% of parents of young children (age 0–12), and 74% of health-conscious consumers choose whole grains at least half the time.
According to the survey, 95% of consumers report that their current whole grain consumption has either increased or held steady compared to five years ago.
"Interestingly, while we often assume that low-carb dieters have lower whole grain consumption, those who say they avoid carbs are more likely to also tell us they look for whole grains when shopping. Those who say they avoid carbs are also more likely to say they nearly always choose whole grain options and more likely to tell us their whole grain intake has increased in the last five years," noted the Whole Grains Council in its report.
This shift in consumer mindset may indicate that consumers recognize that not all grains are created equal and are increasingly able to differentiate the quality of different carbohydrate sources, the report stated.
Home cooking spurs whole grain consumption
The reported increase in whole grain consumption across all age segments can be partially attributed to the fact that many consumers were stuck at home cooking for the majority of 2020 and into 2021.
According to the Whole Grain Council's survey, 88% of consumers are most likely to consume whole grains when eating at home.
"With half of American consumers reporting that they are eating more home-cooked meals as a result of the pandemic, it may be no surprise that one in five consumers tells us they are also eating more whole grains now than they did before the pandemic."
Taste perceptions improve
The survey also found that while health remains the leading reason (82%) for choosing whole grains, more consumers a reporting that they prefer the taste of whole grains to more processed alternatives.
In 2021, 33% said that taste is a barrier in their decision to choose whole grains, compared with 42% in 2018.
"Of those who say they nearly always choose whole grains, 45% see taste as a benefit and only 18% see it as a barrier, suggesting that the more exposure you have to whole grains, the more you come to appreciate the nuttier, more robust flavors," said the Whole Grains Council.
In terms of varieties of whole grains, an increasing amount are more familiar with sprouted grains and are seeking them out in greater numbers than in previous year, the survey found.
Roughly one-quarter of consumers know about sprouted grains and are seeking them out, according to the survey. This figure is even higher among plant-based eaters (vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and those who follow a plant-based diet) (47%) and parents of young children (age 0–12) (42%).
Shoppers report choosing sprouted grains for their flavor and taste (58%) as well as their digestibility (44%) and nutritional characteristics -- such as the increased bioavailability of nutrients-- (41%).
Consumer confusion declines
While previous research such as one study published last year found consumers are overwhelmed and unclear about the whole grain content of certain food products, the Whole Grains Council said that third-party packaging symbols (i.e. the Whole Grains Stamp) have boosted consumer confidence around their whole grain food purchases.
About two-thirds of consumers said seeing third-party labeling on foods gives them more confidence in the products they are buying.
According to the Whole Grains Council, "trust in the Whole Grain Stamp has increased steadily over the past six years with 86% of all consumers today saying they trust the Whole Grain Stamp, 89% percent of younger consumers saying they trust it, and 91% of parents with young children telling us they trust it."