How The Food Industry Can Best Address The Challenges Of Meeting The New Whole Grain Requirements

Jessica Wellnitz
Jessica Wellnitz
Bakery Applications
Product Development Lead

The new standards for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program will bring changes to the meals served in lunchrooms across America.

As school communities prepare to implement the new standards, Cargill’s Bakery Applications Product Development Leader Jessica Wellnitz recently sat down with Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies at Oldways/The Whole Grains Council, to discuss how the food industry can best address the challenges associated with meeting the new whole grain requirements within the regulations.

Jessica: The new rule requires that all grain foods in schools must be "whole grain rich" by the start of the 2014-2015 school year, and at least half should be whole grain until then. What do you think is the best approach for industry – millers, suppliers and manufacturers – to help schools meet these requirements?

Cynthia:  Clarity is key. All four parties – millers, suppliers, manufacturers, and schools – need to fully understand what qualifies as a "whole grain rich" product, and communicate clearly with each other. All too often, there’s a high level of misunderstanding. A school district nutrition supervisor in Minnesota contacted us a few months ago, for instance, because someone had told her their rolls were "whole wheat but not whole grain." I assured her that whole wheat is a kind of whole grain. When we get emails like this, we see what a lack of basic understanding there is out there at all levels. We want schools and companies to realize that the Whole Grains Council is here to help through this transition. Visit our website at, or email me at and we’ll answer your questions.

Jessica: So, we meet these requirements, but how do we ensure that kids will actually eat the whole grain products?

Cynthia: Kids will eat a tasty product, whatever its ingredients. Clever companies with talented R&D staff are already successfully selling whole grain products in the school market. Research shows that several factors – gradually increasing whole grain content, using white wheat, involving kids in tasting days – can speed the acceptance curve. I’ve also had schools tell me, "We just switched to whole grains cold turkey. The kids groused for a little while, then everyone got used to it just fine."

The Whole Grains Council is running its first-ever National Whole Grain Sampling Day on April 4. This will be the perfect opportunity for schools to see their students’ reactions to some of the whole grain rich products they’re assessing for the 2012-2013 school year.

Jessica: According to data from NPD Group, whole grain consumption increased 20% in the three years following introduction of the Whole Grain Stamp in 2005.  With these new rules currently putting a spotlight on the positive health benefits of whole grains in the diet, what are your predictions for growth in the industry over the next few years and why? 

Cynthia: Even with a 20% jump from 2005 to 2008 and subsequent gains since then, whole grain products are still estimated to make up less than 25% of grain products on the market. When you think about the goal of "Make at least half your grains whole" that is put forth in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s clear that even getting to half would more than double the demand for whole grain products. We see a very robust market, one that every company should be part of. Has your company made at least half its grains whole? It’s time to get on the train!