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Expo West Wrap-Up, Part One

March 23, 2011

In which we focus on the Healthy Baking Seminar, as seen through the center of a donut.

Ever wondered what donuts, baby food, and on-the-go granola have in common? If you guessed all three are opportunities to increase whole grain consumption, you'd be correct - and you probably joined me in Anaheim, CA earlier this month. In addition to serving as a round-robin moderator during the Health Baking Seminar, I once again represented Oldways and the WGC while walking the floor of Natural Products Expo West, one of the food world's biggest events.

My trip to Anaheim really began with the Healthy Baking Seminar, presented by Baking Management and Modern Baking magazines. The morning of the Seminar began with a beautiful sunny sky, glorious California weather, and a phenomenal whole grain donut for breakfast. You read that right! The words “whole grain” and “donut” can in fact coexist in the same product, and honestly, they should more often. A whole grain donut was a fabulous counterpoint to the multiple cups of coffee and giant plate of fruit that also made up my breakfast.

It may sound odd, considering I was attending a seminar about healthy baking, but that donut stayed on my mind throughout the entire day. My role as a round-robin moderator was to help guide a table-full of fellow attendees in discussions about marketing health and “healthy” in terms of their products. It was a very cool experience: 15 or so people would take a seat at my table, I’d introduce myself, we’d talk about marketing theories and best practices for about 20 minutes, and then a bell would ring. That group would stand up and wander off to other round-robin tables, a new group would sit down with me, and the process would repeat. In total, I moderated three groups of bakers, manufacturers, brand managers, and marketing executives, and although everyone came to the table with very different backgrounds and questions, two big questions stayed constant throughout:

  1. What are you giving up?

  2. How do you open the door?

Obviously neither of these questions stands alone; they both come to the surface with a plethora of other questions, all of which clamor to be heard and answered. In order to have healthier products, what gets left out? Where do you draw the line and stop cutting back on salt or fat or sugar? How do you convince the doubters that your healthier products still taste great? How do you tackle the myth that “better for you” can never equal “better tasting” before they even come through your door or walk past your product on a shelf?

I may be the WGC Program Manager and part of Oldways and therefore squarely on the “healthy is delicious” bandwagon, but I try and approach every product-related question as a consumer first and foremost. As I listened to the discussions of what works and what doesn’t, I started thinking of all the ways WGC Members have successfully dealt with these exact issues. Never knowing what kind of worry or concerns were discussed internally, we can all see the results of their efforts to reduce sugar, boost whole grain use, transition to healthier fats and oils, and so forth. A quick flip through prime-time TV or a wander down the grocery aisle reveals case after case where healthier products are taking over, replacing their predecessors at a remarkable rate. Who would’ve imagined whole grain toaster pastries would taste just as good as their refined grain counterparts? Or that kids would actually enjoy low sugar “sugary” cereals? Or that whole grain salty snacks would deliver whole grain goodness while also delivering less of the very sodium that makes them so delectable?

Again and again, I kept coming back to that whole grain donut. Yes, it was glazed, and yes, it was still a donut. No, it’s not the kind of thing I eat for breakfast every day. Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I had a donut before that whole grain lovely winked its lightly glazed eye at me. But if hadn’t read that my happy donut was made with whole grain, I never would’ve known by eating it. And we’re not just talking about a little whole grain flour, we’re talking a half-serving of whole grain ingredients, one-sixth of your recommended daily whole grain intake! The educated consumer in me was pleased to know I could get a little morning sugar in my system in the guise of indulgence. The average consumer in me took that first bite with doubt – and the last bite with delight. And the utterly clueless, non-health-conscious consumer in me, the one that loves cheese fries with gravy and still mourns for the deep-fried Oreo friends wouldn’t let me try a few years back… Well frankly, she couldn’t care less what was in that donut. It was a donut, it was glazed, and it was there for her to eat.

Which makes it okay to confess that I went back for seconds! (Kara)
 

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two of my Expo West report!


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