When you're at the top in the food industry, someone invariably tries to knock you down. More often than not, that someone tends to be the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
Riding a crest of excellent publicity and positive news, the whole grain trend that has dominated the industry in recent years finally received the first chink in its armor. How big of a chink is highly debatable, but it's a chink nonetheless, and one that showcases future issues and concerns regarding the growing popularity of whole grain bakery foods.
In December 2007, Washington D.C.-based CSPI notified Sara Lee Corp. that it intended to file a lawsuit against the Downers Grove, Ill.-based food manufacturer for engaging in “acts and practices that are both unfair and deceptive with respect to the marketing and sale of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth™ Made with Whole Grain White Bread.”
At issue is consumer confusion, and whether or not food manufacturers try to purposely mislead consumers into thinking that they are purchasing a 100 percent whole grain product. Sara Lee Soft & Smooth™ Made with Whole Grain White Bread has quickly become one of the country's top selling bread, since its launch in 2005. Since the introduction, Sara Lee has publicly touted the transitional nature of the product, giving consumers a stepping stone from traditional white bread products to 100 percent whole grain fare.
The use of blended formulations of enriched white flour and whole wheat flour was immediately grasped by consumers and bakers alike. Sara Lee recently upped the whole grain content of the product with a 64/36 blend of enriched white and whole grain flour, giving the product 25 percent more whole grain and staying true to the transitional nature of the product.
However, CSPI claims Sara Lee is making fraudulent claims that intend to deceive consumers into thinking the breads are 100 percent whole grain products. These claims include “made with whole grain,” “good source of whole grain” and “now with 25 percent more whole grain.”
“Sara Lee is attempting to put a whole grain halo on a bread that is not whole wheat,” stated Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director. “I call that a whole grain whitewash.”
Sara Lee disagrees.
“We find the tone of CSPI's letter offensive and much of its content uninformed,” Sara Lee said in a statement. “We offer a wide range of 100 percent whole grain breads, enriched white breads and nutritionally transitional products made with a blend of whole wheat and enriched wheat flour that are designed to help consumers increase their consumption of whole grain breads without a radical change in taste and consistency, similar to how consumers transition from whole milk to skim milk using 2 percent.”
In a letter to Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee's chairman and chief executive officer, CSPI demanded Sara Lee take the following steps to settle the matter:
Entry of a permanent injunction prohibiting Sara Lee from representing that (1) a product that is not 100 percent whole grain is “made with whole grain” without specifying clearly the percentage of grain that is whole grain (e.g., “20 percent of the grain is whole grain”); (2) a product is a “good source” or “excellent source” (or similar verbiage) of whole grain in the absence of FDA approval of such statements; (3) a product that is not made with 100 percent whole grains has “all of the goodness of whole grains” or similar verbiage; and (4) disgorgement by Sara Lee of its profits from the sale of this product from the time it was introduced in 2005 into a cy pres fund to be used for charitable purposes.
CSPI's threat of litigation has not caused Sara Lee to waver on the promotion and marketing of its Sara Lee Soft & Smooth™ Made with Whole Grain White Bread, but it has reinforced the need for the FDA to establish whole grain labeling guidelines.
Unresolved labeling issues and consumer confusion have not stopped the momentum of whole grains. Many bakers, ingredient suppliers and organizations have continued to ramp up their whole grain efforts in new and exciting directions.
The Whole Grains Council (WGC) recently announced the expansion of its popular stamp into Canada and onto restaurant menus. The bi-lingual Canadian Whole Grain Stamp dons the same look and requirements of the U.S. stamp, with any product using the stamp guaranteeing at least half a serving of whole grain in every serving.
The WGC has created a simpler stamp for restaurant menus, using only the wheat chaff from the stamp. The stamp can be used on products containing at least half a serving of whole grains per serving.
Besides the expansion of the stamp program into new channels, the use of the stamp on foods and ingredients also has increased to more than 1,600 products. Cynthia Harriman, director, WGC's Food and Nutrition Strategies, believes the continuing popularity of whole grains has officially moved them out of the “trend” or“fad” designation.
“The only trend was that we ate the white stuff for 100 years,” Harriman states.
A return to whole grain manufacturing has impacted all bakery food categories, including sweetgoods. In January, the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., launched two new varieties of its popular Pop-Tarts® toaster pastries that deliver whole grain and fiber nutrition.
Pop-Tarts toaster pastries with one serving of whole grain are available in two varieties, strawberry and brown sugar cinnamon, carry a suggested retail price of $1.99 per box, and are available nationwide.
“As the original and leading toaster pastry, the Pop-Tarts brand recognizes the need to offer our consumers choices,” says Jennifer Garrett, Ph.D., Kellogg's director, nutrition marketing. “Whether that's no frosting, lower fat or enhancing nutritional value by adding whole grains and fiber, Pop-Tarts toaster pastries offer a broad range of flavors and ingredients to personalize for different consumer demands.”
Whole grain usage is expanding in the sweetgoods arena as evidenced by these new Pop-Tarts varieties. However, Hugh Brooks, senior product manager, frozen cakes and batters, Dawn Food Products Inc., Jackson, Mich., cautions that bakers cannot sacrifice taste for nutrition.
“We have to get whole grain formulations right the first time where there are repeat purchases,” Brooks says. “The product has to taste good.” Brooks also adds that nutritious sweetgoods must focus on positive attributes, such as whole grains and fiber. “An absence of negatives does not sell,” he adds.
Just as bakers are expanding their whole grain offerings, ingredient suppliers are introducing new products designed to make it easier and more attractive for bakers to incorporate whole grains.
ConAgra Mills, Omaha, Neb., recently introduced a new line of ancient grain flours, including amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff. Besides complementing ConAgra's flour portfolio, the launch also puts a spotlight on little used whole grains that may have a significant impact on future bakery food formulations.
Manufacturing with ancient grains poses many of the same challenges as traditional whole grain manufacturing, including “the need for the addition of other ingredients to bolster the gluten structure and increased absorptions,” says Glen Weaver, ConAgra's director of product quality and technical services. “There may be a need for process modifications as well, such as adjusted mix time, increased dough-to-pan ratios and adjustments to bake times/temperatures.”
These needed adjustments are tolerable to bakers that seek big profits in whole grain formulations. The expansion of whole grain popularity, whether through ingredient technology, distribution channels or product categories, has paid significant dividends and shows no signs of slowing.