Whole grain products are healthy, but not particularly popular. However, providing information about their benefits can change that slightly. A recent study conducted by the University of Bonn involving more than 300 people between the ages of 18 and 39 shows this. But despite receiving valuable information every day for two weeks, the effect was relatively small. The researchers believe that it is impossible to reach the recommended levels of consumption only through this study. The study has now been published in the journal “Appetite”.
Whole grains are grains in which the bran is not removed during processing. It contains a particularly high amount of fiber, high quality oils, vitamins and minerals. Whole grain products are therefore healthy: they satisfy more and longer, strengthen immunity and It reduces the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, they have carved out a shadowy existence on supermarket shelves. One of the main reasons is their taste.
Many people have reported in surveys that they do not find whole-grain foods as sweet as conventional foods.
Dr. Nina Weingarten, Institute of Food and Resource Economics (ILR), University of Bonn
However, there may be other reasons: “For example, the health care effect of the products is often underestimated,” says the psychologist. “Additionally, consumers often don’t know how to incorporate whole grains into their daily diet—perhaps because they don’t have a recipe.”
Recipes do not help make grains more popular
But will addressing these data gaps change consumer behavior? The researchers Dr. Nina Weingarten and Professor Dr. Monica Hartmann investigated this question. Together with the Institute of Marketing Research, they recruited more than 330 women and men between the ages of 18 and 39 for a longitudinal online study. Participants were divided into four groups. One of them received an email every day with health information. Example: “Eating whole grains every day reduces the risk of stroke.”
The second group, on the other hand, was presented with daily cooking suggestions. Group three received both information about the health benefits of whole grains and suggestions for incorporating the food into their diet. Group four served as a control; Members get a message in their inbox every morning with the latest fruit and vegetable information. In total, this part of the study took fourteen days. “Immediately, we looked at how consumer attitudes and behavior changed compared to the beginning of the experiment,” says Weingarten. “Among other things, they were asked to indicate what they thought of whole-grain foods and how often they ate such products in the past two weeks.” Four weeks later, the same questions were asked again.
The analysis of the data showed that the recipe suggestions alone had no effect: the women and men in group two did not report that their attitudes about whole grain products had changed significantly. Nor has their consumption behavior changed. The situation was different for consumers who received health information: they now rated whole-grain foods significantly better. Moreover, complementary products are now appearing on their plates a little more frequently. However, this effect could not be detected until four weeks after the end of the study.
Information delivery works – but only a little
So the availability of information has an effect. The troubling part of this message, however, is: It’s not particularly big. This can be seen, for example, in the frequency of total cereal consumption, which should be indicated on a scale from 1 (not once in the last 14 days) to 7 (between 11 and 14 times). In the health information group, the mean score changed from 2.84 before the trial to 3.04 four weeks after the trial.
Therefore, Weingarten and Hartman believe that information alone is unlikely to increase grain consumption to recommended levels. “Other measures should be introduced in addition – for example, paying more attention to the products in supermarkets or manufacturers developing new recipes to make them more popular,” says Weingarten. “Restaurants or fast-food chains can offer and promote whole-grain supplements, such as whole-grain crust pizza or whole-grain burger buns.”
Weingarten, N.Y. inter alia. (2023) Fifty Shades of Grain – Increasing Whole Grain Consumption with Daily Mail. Appetite. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2023.106608.