Viewpoints

Finding a Big Story Packed in a Little Grain

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The first thing I do when I return each spring from the country’s biggest, busiest trade show devoted to healthy foods and beverages is have a bagel and a beer. It’s the surest way to replenish my depleted reserves of gluten. Glorious gluten.

Bob Vosburgh, Supermarket News group editorThis wheat protein (along with rye, barley and a wheat hybrid known as triticale) is racking up quite a reputation as the bad boy of the food industry. Statistics from The NPD Group found that 30% of adults, roughly one in every three adults, claimed to cut down on or avoid gluten completely in January 2013.

Retailers know all too well how demand for gluten-free has impacted their SKU mix. In the U.S., gluten-free rang up $4.2 billion in sales last year, according to Packaged Facts. Products are found in just about every aisle, where “gluten-free” shelf tags get plenty of play. And talk about going mainstream: 15% of mass market sales in the snack/granola bar segment were for gluten-free items. 

In this week’s issue, I look at the alternative grains and seeds that manufacturers and gluten-adverse consumers are using to replace wheat. In the process of researching the article, I realized how the consumer desire to reduce gluten consumption is revitalizing the entire grain segment. 


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Chia, amaranth, quinoa and their kind are steeped in world history and they come with something every retailer is interested in: A great backstory. Some varieties are already quite well known in gourmet circles, such as quinoa, which fed the Mayans for centuries. There’s also lesser-know options like teff, a cereal grain native to Northeastern Africa with an excellent nutritional profile.

Ancient civilizations knew they were eating a good thing, but it’s the food scientists of today who are discovering why these grains are so healthful. Mostly all of them are high in protein (especially amaranth and quinoa), providing satiety and sustained energy. They also can contain a lot of fiber, as well as amino acids. The grains are exceedingly versatile, as manufacturers have discovered. They can be incorporated into everything from baby food to beverages. 

Read more: Ancient Seeds and Grains Become New Again

At home, their texture and flavor appeal to the treasure hunter in us. As consumers, we’re always on the lookout for new flavors and experiences.

Maybe I can change my own preferences. It might be easy enough to find an amaranth bagel, but does anyone know where I can get a spelt beer?

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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Betsy Ramirez, MEd, RD (not verified)
on Apr 16, 2013

I am glad to see some movement away from quinoa into other grains. Chia is one of my favorites, and it's a great one to demo in stores.

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David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

Jon Springer

Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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