New US dietary guidelines issued in January and promoting wholegrains had an immediate impact on national sales of wholegrain products, according to recent figures from market research company AC Nielsen. These reveal a surge in sales of baked wholegrain goods over the past year, wholegrain cookies topping the list with a 1,364 per cent increase in sales.
A state subsidized campaign to encourage higher intake of wholegrains has also been launched in Finland, which, like many Scandinavian countries, has a higher national awareness of health issues than other European countries, according to information from the International Federation of Plant Bakeries (AIBI).
Wholegrain sales have remained relatively stable in Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries, where wholegrain breads are part of the tradition, said the AIBI.
In contrast, wholegrains are considered more of a "speciality" product in countries such as France, Italy and Spain, while in the UK an industry-wide drive to cash in on the health benefits of wholegrains has led to a number of new product launches.
"Wholegrains are definitely important, they are definitely on the agenda and they are definitely going to get bigger," Mintel analyst David Jago told BakeryAndSnacks.com.
"The industry realises there is an opportunity here and it's using it," he added.
New wholegrain products launched in the past three months include Kellogg's Kashi cereal range and Marks & Spencer's Just Wheats cereals in the UK, as well as Nature Valley Healthy Heart snacks from General Mills and Nabisco Wheat Thins snacks from Kraft Foods in the US.
Recent research has demonstrated how wholegrain foods can have a protective effect against heart disease, a leading cause of death in the world, killing nearly 17 million people annually.
The research also claims that consuming wholegrain foods can help reduce the risk of stroke by up to 40 per cent.
Last year, researchers in the US revealed how wholegrain bread and cereals could reduce the risk of developing the increasingly common health condition of type 2 diabetes, by reducing chances of developing high blood pressure, poor blood sugar control, low HDL "good" cholesterol and high blood fats.
Further studies claim that eating wholegrain foods keeps weight down, as components within wholegrains contribute to favourable metabolic alterations that may reduce long-term weight gain.
In July the EU launched a €16m project to develop health-promoting cereal foods and ingredients aimed at fighting metabolic syndrome. The five-year Healthgrain Integrated project aims to identify new sources of nutritionally enhanced grain, as well as develop methods to make cereal products more appealing to consumers.
Food and ingredient manufacturers are increasingly working on making wholegrain products more consumer friendly. In July two US bakeries, Sara Lee and IBC, launched white wholegrain bread products, targeted at health-conscious consumers. A similar product was launched in Denmark in June by Schulstad, subsidiary of Nordic food group Cerealia.
"Consumers continue to demand healthier baked goods that include wholegrains. With this demand they continue to express that taste is vital with healthier products, so we've been able to develop a wholegrain product with more palatability," said Kent Lyman, director of sales at ADM Milling, which markets one of its flours as offering the taste and texture of white flour products while preserving the wholegrain kernel.
Labeling has also become an important marketing asset, with companies seeking to profit from the wholegrain drive by re-labeling their existing products to emphasize wholegrain content.
However, according to Jago, Nestlé and Warburtons are following a particularly successful strategy in marketing their wholegrain products.
"Nestlé promotes its Shreddies and Shredded Wheat cereals as keeping away hunger for longer, while Warburtons advertises its All In One wholemeal white bread as providing sustained energy. These are strong consumer incentives for buying a product," he said.