Eat your five a day. Walk 10,000 steps. Do 30 minutes of exercise a day. There are plenty of maxims around healthy living – and is another one about to join them? For the last three years, the Whole Grain Initiative has encouraged us all to “make half our grains whole” – but what are whole grains, and why are they important?
For nearly 20 years, Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) – a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills and makers of Nestlé Breakfast Cereals – have concentrated on increasing the levels of whole grain across their cereal portfolio.
The Brussels Times spoke to Wolfgang Bindzus, Head of Research & Development at CPW, to find out why the company is so sure the future of cereal is whole grain.
Wolfgang, thank you for talking to us. Firstly, tell us a little bit more about why whole grain is so important?
We believe whole grain is an unsung superhero. Nature has filled grains with vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants which act together to bring about many health benefits. There’s a strong (and growing) body of scientific evidence that connects whole grain with a reduced risk of many non-communicable diseases – including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. Public health authorities, nutritionists, and health organizations, including the WHO, all recommend we eat whole grains over refined grains. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, people simply aren’t eating enough whole grains in their diet. That’s where CPW comes in and where we believe we can make a real difference.
CPW’s cereals have changed a lot over the last twenty years, why did you decide to renovate your cereals and focus on whole grain?
As a company, we have a clear purpose – to make breakfast better. That doesn’t only mean tasty, but also means making breakfast more nutritious and breakfast cereals part of a healthy diet. We have a broad portfolio with breakfast cereals for all members of the family. While each of us is supposed to eat around 50g of whole grain a day, it’s estimated most of us eat less than a quarter of that. This is true for children, in particular – something which may have an impact on healthy eating habits later in life. As a breakfast cereal company, we’re in a unique position – we’re on the tables of millions of families every morning. We can help our consumers increase their whole grain uptake through one simple meal. To make it even easier, by picking up our cereals with a green banner you know you’re getting at least 8g of whole grain per serving.
What challenges have you faced during your renovation journey?
We kicked off our work in 2003, and since then we’ve continuously increased the whole grain content of our breakfast cereals. Today more than 90% of our breakfast cereals have whole grain as their number one ingredient, with our kids and teens portfolio reaching up to 99%. At the same time, we reduced the levels of salt and sugar. These are major accomplishments and we’ve had to overcome many challenges to get this far!
Firstly, working with whole grain is very different from working with refined white flour – it creates a different colour, a different texture, and a different taste. These are all things which we know our consumer values. To overcome this, we had to evolve our recipes as well as our breakfast cereal manufacturing processes. For example, we integrated an online grain milling process in our manufacturing facilities to make our breakfast cereals with freshly milled whole grains. Quality is really important to us. Although you can produce refined white flour with a certain consistency, whole grain flour is different. The form of the grain changes depending on where they grow, the weather, what the soil’s like. We had to learn how to ensure consistent, high quality while working with natural grains.
It’s important that we make breakfast cereals with the nutritious content from wholegrains,while still delivering the great tasting offerings to the whole family.
How have your consumers reacted to the changes?
Our consumers are at the center of everything we do. It’s important that our breakfast cereals keep the great taste our consumers love, as we increase the amount of wholegrain in our products. Thanks to our approach, our consumers have responded really positively. In a recent survey, we learned that 82% of our consumers think it’s important to eat whole grain and 77% of them actively look for whole grain in the foods we eat. Since 2003, we’ve added around 28 billion servings of whole grain to our consumers’ diets! We’re also looking at how we can bring local sourcing to our manufacturing. In a number of countries around the world (France, UK, Australia, and Mexico to name a few), we have set up relationships with farmers in the local communities around our factories. This way we’re not only supporting the local economy but we’re also reducing the carbon footprint of our products.
What’s next? Is it possible to add more whole grain to your products or have you reached the limit?
We’ve achieved a major milestone in making whole grain the number one ingredient in so many of our breakfast cereal recipes. We obviously hope to build on that. However, there’s more we can do outside of simply renovating our portfolio. One of the key challenges we face with whole grain is many people simply don’t know where to find it. One of the ways of overcoming this is by clearly marking whole grain quantities on food. But it's not as simple as a label on a packet. There’s no consensus amongst governments on some fundamental questions – What is whole grain? How much of it should we eating per day? No wonder consumers are often confused!
If we want more people to eat whole grain – which governments all around the world say they do – we need to make it easier for them. Firstly, we need to have stronger educational campaigns around wholegrain, explaining what it is and why it’s important. Secondly, we need to help people find whole grain in their diet. To do that, there should be clear labelling or whole grain should be counted as part of existing nutrition profiles (such as Nutri-score, traffic light systems etc). Finally, we should enable and encourage manufacturers to use whole grain as part of their communications showing the benefits whole grain brings to our consumers.
At CPW, we firmly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and we’re committed to making breakfast better. But we can’t do it alone. Politicians, other manufacturers, and nutritional bodies need to work together to support wholegrain. Together we can improve the health of EU citizens, and the health of the planet.