Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Ancient" food grains becoming "modern" ones! Food industry latching on this new consumer fad

Some time one keeps wondering as to how the food industry discerns what its consumers are really looking for and develop products that meet with their expectations? After all industry invests money for reaping profits commensurate with its spend and there fore would weigh carefully various options before them. To some extent it is not far from truth to say that many times consumer fears spawn a trend or a fad which is exploited by the industry to "feed" this fad! There are umpteen number of examples in the past to substantiate this view. Food products with low fat, low carbohydrate, low salt, low sugar, high fiber, high in antioxidants, free from gluten, rich in vitamins and minerals etc are all products that satisfy the consumers regarding their potential to stave of diseases. A normal person with a normal health does not need such specially "doctored" foods to lead a normal life and it is now well recognized that a mixed diet containing whole cereals, whole pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk with without animal foods can sustain the health of a healthy person with good quality life for a long span. To day's pace of life is such that the home cooking has become an almost extinct art or skill with most people depending on processed and packed foods containing highly refined carbohydrates, added sugars, added salt, added fat with practically no fiber and the result is there for all to see, manifested by the spawning of a host of life style disorders like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure, cancer, kidney ailments, liver disorders etc. In  a startling report recently some American scientists have come out with a finding of far reaching implications that a person consuming 33 g of whole grains a day can potentially reduce his chance of premature death by 9%! Since many people are imagining that  they are gluten sensitive or entertain a perception that gluten is bad, there is a distinct shift away from wheat and the industry is seizing this opportunity to develop newer products or modified erstwhile wheat based products using so called "ancient" grains to satisfy this craze for gluten free diet! Here is a take on this new fad which, till it lasts, may bring fortunes to the food industry ever ready to feed on such apprehensions, be it real or illusory! 

"One group of Harvard researchers recently released a study in the grain industry's favor. The findings showed that people could potentially decrease their risk of premature death by 9% if they ate at least 33 grams of whole grains a day, as compared to those who rarely ate whole grains. However, grains have also started to get edged out of healthy food diets due to concerns about gluten and heated debates over GMOs, which have sparkedproposed GMO bans, lawsuits, and labeling initiatives across the country. These concerns already partially contributed to the declining cereal sales of the past few years, and food companies fear that more grain-containing product markets could be next. Food companies are not at a total loss just yet. One way they've adapted to gluten-free consumer demands is to, rather than abandon grains altogether, instead use alternatives to corn, oats, and traditional wheat. Grains are making a comeback as trendy ingredients and finding their way back into health food circles thanks to sprouted grains and ancient grains. Companies are also using technology to reinvigorate the industry and reintroduce grains to the modern, savvy, health-conscious consumer. Still a small but fast-growing niche, sprouted grains are attracting more consumers and manufacturers around the world. In the U.S., where this niche is developing most rapidly, food and nutrition expert Julian Mellentin predicts the sprouted grain market will grow to more than $250 million in sales by 2018—more than eight times the current $30 million. The Whole Grains Council found that sprouted grains have health benefits over regular grains, such as higher levels of soluble fiber and certain vitamins and minerals as well as their nutrients' ability to better withstand heat processing. According to the USDA, sprouted grains, as compared to whole grains, contain around 75% of the carbs, around 40% of the fat, less gluten, and even a bit more protein. The body can also digest sprouted grains more easily, as the sprouting process pre-digests the starches into simple sugars. Consumer-wise, the major appeal of sprouted grains is for the average consumer who is either looking to cut carbs from his or her diet, particularly wheat and corn, or looking for better sources of "good carbs." For manufacturers, the benefits of sprouted grains are already recognized by many U.S. consumers—17%, according to one survey—which cuts down on the marketing needed to explain those benefits. Plus, manufacturers can sell these products at a higher price than those using traditional grain ingredients. While according to Mintel, companies released only 19 sprouted grains products in 2014, food companies big and small are jumping on the sprouted grains bandwagon. At the end of 2014, Kellogg announced seven new cereals, one of which was Kashi Sprouted Grains Multi-Grain organic cereal, made with oats, barley, spelt, and amaranth. Mainstream food retailer Sam's Clubnow offers sprouted seven-grain bread and dinner rolls from Angelic Bakehouse at all its 634 locations in the U.S. Even Panera Bread hopped onboard with its own sprouted-grain bagel containing rye, spelt, and oat groats. On the other end, in only three years, snack brand Way Better quickly grew its sales to $25 million after introducing its sprouted grains chips, made with flax, quinoa, kale, chia, and black beans, and crackers, made from barley, spelt, and emmer. Thanks to Better4U, consumers can even find Gluten Free Sprouted Ancient Grains Pizzas, which contain quinoa, flax, millet, and chia. Going hand-in-hand with sprouted grains are ancient grains, which more often than not overlap and can be found marketed either separately or together in the same product. While ancient grains are a fresh trend on western grocery store aisles, they're anything but new. The funny thing is, "ancient" grains aren't any older than oats or regular wheat. But they're more difficult to find and aren't crops that have been nearly as popular as the handful of grains that permeate the standard American diet. According to NPR, one of the first known references to the term "ancient grains" came in a 1996 New York Daily News article, though the concept didn't become mainstream until the past few years. Now, they're gaining speed, and "old" is becoming "new" again."

No doubt food grains of our ancestors were truly natural grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides, besides not mutated to change their nutritional characteristics. For example to day's wheat originated from Einkorn which is more nutritious and less toxic to people with Celiac disease who cannot consume gluten containing foods. Same is true with many other grains like Quinoa, Chea, Amaranth, Farro, Spelt, Freekeh, Teff, Kamut, Kaniwa etc which are now being brought to lime light by health stores in the US claiming that they are much more healthy than wheat, rice or corn. There are many products already in the market containing one or more of these so called ancient grains because of expending demand from the consumers looking for better and safer diet. If this trend continues big guns of the industry can be expected to get into this bandwagon because of declining sales of conventional wheat and corn based products. Another section of industry is trying out a different strategy by using sprouted grains which are considered more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. One of the offshoots of this new trend is that industry is being forced to make healthier products using these grains due to the new consumer pull which is good for the people of that country!      


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