picture of Arroz Con Pollo, a recipe from our book

Our Whole Grain Consumer Insights Survey repeatedly finds that brown rice is one of the most popular whole grains, with more than 70% of consumers having tried it. So what exactly are people pairing with this tried-and-true whole grain, and which people are reaching for it most often? To learn more about brown rice trends, we caught up with Cameron Jacobs of USA Rice to share insights from USA Rice’s Research on Rice Eating Occasions compiled by The Hartman Group.

Brown rice is a versatile ingredient that marries well with any number of food pairings. When people eat brown rice, what types of foods are most frequently paired with it?

Cameron Jacobs: Well said! Brown rice (and rice in general) is known among consumers as a simple and natural ingredient that pairs well with almost any food, especially nutrient dense ones, and serves as a familiar base for exploring new flavors. The top foods consumed with brown rice are vegetables (paired on 44% of brown rice eating occasions), beans/lentils/legumes (paired 30%), and meat proteins outside of seafood (paired 27%). Fruits just missed the cut for the top three, but are eaten with brown rice 23% of the time.

Brown rice has played in important role in many cultures and cuisines around the world. When people eat brown rice, what types of cuisines are they typically eating? 

Cameron Jacobs: You said it! With rice serving as a staple ingredient for two-thirds of the world’s population, whole grain rice plays a tremendous role in all types of cultures and global cuisines. Brown rice of course is heavily consumed in American cuisine, but consumption strongly over indexes for Middle Eastern, Indian, Spanish, and global fusion cuisines followed by Mexican and Chinese.   

Given brown rice’s role in the global cuisines you described, what do we know about brown rice eating occasions among different racial or ethnic groups?   

Cameron Jacobs: The big takeaway is brown rice eating occasions occur across all different racial or ethnic groups. Our research indicates that brown rice occasions significantly over-index with African American and Asian -American eaters, then occur a bit above average for Hispanic eaters and just slightly under-index for Caucasian eaters. It’s important to echo the message that brown rice consumption continues to rise and occurs across the range of different races and cultural backgrounds.

From fast casual chains like Chipotle, to sit-down restaurants like P.F. Chang’s, brown rice is a common fixture at many types of restaurants, and is more readily available than many other types of whole grains. What do we know about how this shapes brown rice eating occasions?

Cameron Jacobs: From fast casual to fine dining, we are seeing a continuing rise of brown rice on menus and readily available for consumers. While the total number of brown rice eating occasions primarily occur at home, brown rice occasions are interestingly more likely to take place at restaurants or away from the home when compared to total eating occasions.

This trend has been fascinating to follow and I think fueled by a few things: the widely understood nutritional benefits associated with brown rice consumption; increased consumer acceptance across the board for whole grains which was demonstrated by the Whole Grain Consumer Insights Survey; and lastly, the fact that additional cooking times needed for whole grain rice, which sometimes can serve as a barrier to consumption, don’t get passed down to the customer in these settings.

It’s also worth noting that brown rice consumption is more likely to take place during weekdays and in a social setting among family.

There is always interest in food trends among generations like Gen Z and millennials. What does brown rice consumption look like among the different generations? 

Cameron Jacobs: There are solid rates of brown rice consumption across all the age groups, but brown rice eating occasions are most likely to be among Millennials and less likely among Gen Z and Boomers. I do believe as that Gen Z demographic ages, this figure will change, and that generation will be a strong and active brown rice consumer group.

I’d also like to point out that we see that brown rice occasions are way more likely to take place among households with children, which reiterates not only that parents understand the health benefits of brown rice when feeding their children, but also shows the consumer acceptance of whole grains even among the youngest consumers.

Can you share any insights on why people choose brown rice or what needs they’re looking to fulfill with that food choice?

Cameron Jacobs: This is a great question. Understanding the key motivations and need states for consumption will help us all better understand whole grain eaters. Data tell us that when choosing to take part in a brown rice eating occasion, eaters are looking for something healthy to eat as well as a food that can be enjoyed in a social setting and help foster a feeling of connectivity to others while eating.

The top characteristics of brown rice consumption among consumers were flavor distinction, enjoyment of food, and health and wellness attributes.

In terms of need states, brown rice really stands out as an extraordinary ingredient with brown rice eating occasions over-indexing for almost every positive need state surveyed. The Hartman researchers even had to note how atypical its was to see this amount of over-indexing, so this is about to be a long list! Brown rice occasions over-index on a wide range of needs related to fresh and less processed, social connection, better flavor, and health and nutrition, as well as more premium-oriented needs like local/seasonal or artisan foods, authentic global flavors, and foods with a unique story.


Thank you to Cameron Jacobs and the entire team at USA Rice for giving us a sneak peek into these trends! (Kelly)

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