a white bowl filled with cooked brown rice and vegetables


Rice is a versatile foundation for countless global cuisines. When people are looking to connect with the food traditions of their ancestors, which types of rice are they putting on their plate? To find out, 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.

Food is one of the most meaningful ways that people express their cultural identity. What does the research tell us about rice consumption and cultural heritage?

Cameron Jacobs: Beautifully said. Food is unique in its ability to create these feelings of connection, especially when it comes to cultural identity or cultural heritage, and rice certainly is a special food when it comes to the need for that connectivity.

For the entire rice category, the attribute of “Would connect me with my family heritage or ethnicity” over-indexed for rice consumption, grew in importance for consumers, and was present for more than a tenth of all rice eating occasions in 2021.  As a key component of a variety of regional and global cuisines, we saw that brown rice was more likely to be consumed when connecting with one’s own heritage or ethnicity.

Similarly, the need for “authentic global flavors” and the desire for “unique flavors” were also important among study participants. The need for authentic global flavors strongly over indexed, with that need present for 50% of all brown rice eating occasions. The data also showed that attributes like emotions, social connection, and enjoyment were heightened on brown rice occasions when compared to total occasions.

Is this the case across the board, and are there certain cultural demographics that are more likely to seek out brown rice?

Cameron Jacobs: Across the board for the rice category? Yes, but that’s certainly not the case for other food products and ingredients, as rice is very unique in its ability to foster those feelings of connectivity.

Yes, there are certain demographic groups that are more likely to participate in brown rice eating occasions than others. Brown rice occasions are more likely to be among Millennials, those with higher income and education levels, households with children, Asian-Americans, and urbanites when compared to total occasions. Brown rice occasions are also more likely to take place in the Northeast and Southern regions of the U.S.

We also see that brown rice occasions are less likely to be among consumers who live in rural areas, single and larger households, Caucasians, retirees, and students. These occasions are also less likely to be among Midwest residents.

Brown rice is an incredibly versatile ingredient. What types of cuisines are people typically eating when brown rice is a part of the meal?

Cameron Jacobs: It’s one of the most versatile ingredients on the market, from application to prep methods and even use in leftovers. Like white rice, consumers look to brown rice as a “blank canvas” that can be easily transformed with the addition of herbs, spices, sauces, and other ingredients that align with a variety of cuisines beyond what is considered “classic American,” which demonstrates rice’s ability to pair with a broad range of global cuisines and flavors.

When compared to total occasions, brown rice occasions highly over-index for Chinese, global fusion, Spanish, Indian Middle Eastern, and Tex-Mex cuisines, and then strongly over-index for Mexican, Contemporary Italian, French, and Japanese cuisines.

Brown rice is also prized for its nutritional density. Can brown rice be used as a bridge food to help increase the intake of other nutrient-dense, under-consumed foods?

Cameron Jacobs: Yes, absolutely! The research shows brown rice is often paired with healthy ingredients and helps to drive consumption of other nutrient-dense foods. Brown rice is most frequently paired with more health-forward categories such as vegetables, salads, and beans/legumes when compared to both white rice and total eating occasions. Those health-forward categories all over-index on brown rice occasions, with vegetables present on 41% of brown rice occasions, meat protein at 27%, salads at 27%, eggs at 24%, fruit at 24%, and legumes at 24% of all brown rice eating occasions.

Are consumers today seeking out brown rice for health, taste, or a little bit of both? Are there any other motivators that come into play in the decision to choose brown rice?

Cameron Jacobs: Today’s consumers certainly understand the health benefits that come from eating whole grain rice varieties, but that is not the only motivator leading them to consume whole grain rice. The research shows that there is a range of motivations that lead consumers toward brown rice and reflects how consumers see brown rice as a tasty and healthy staple that can be used as an integral building block to fulfill a variety of needs, from social connections and special health benefits to supporting the environment.

On the nutrition side of things, we see that on brown rice occasions, consumers are more likely to participate because they want to do something healthy for themselves and seek replenishment or renewed focus. Top needs on brown rice occasions are more likely to be health-related, such as positive nutrition, moderation, special health benefits, and absence of negatives. There is also a higher likelihood of health-related emotions, such as a focus on basic health and wellbeing, that are more likely to describe brown rice occasions.

Beyond health-related motivators, the desire for social connection (both with others and with brand narratives) and the desire to take time to enjoy the food are more likely to be present on brown rice eating occasions. These occasions are very social in nature and are more likely to take place as a couple or among friends, with the need to connect socially through food present for 57% of brown rice occasions.

Brown rice occasions over-index on a wide range of functional needs, including flavor, freshness, and less processed, natural ingredients—but it also fulfills more premium-oriented needs like local/seasonal, artisan foods, unique brand narratives, and sustainability. In fact, brown rice is the only rice sub-category analyzed (white, brown, and flavored rice) in which the desire for sustainability is among the top ten needs, with the need state of “positively impacts the environment” present for 56% of brown rice eating occasions.

Lastly, are you able to share any information about the sample size or how these data were collected?

Cameron Jacobs: Of course. What’s research without understanding the methodology? USA Rice partnered with the Hartman Group to conduct research around rice consumption and better understand rice consumers. The research provides a comprehensive picture of rice eating occasions for the overall rice category and subcategories, answering the who, what, where, when, and why of rice consumption.

The overall objective of our research is to analyze the rice category and its subcategories (white, brown, and flavored) to understand the consumers participating in rice consumption occasions, key functional and emotional need states relevant to these occasions, sourcing and preparation considerations, and commonly consumed items on rice occasions. Rice occasions are defined as any occasion including white rice, brown rice, flavored rice or rice and beans. Rice occasions are then indexed to total eating and drinking occasions throughout the research.

To meet that objective, we use Hartman’s Eating and Drinking Occasions Compass, which is a comprehensive database reflecting American eating patterns, behaviors, choices, and motivations, grounded in a complete survey-based enumeration of past-24-hour meals that allows us to analyze all rice occasions during a specific year. The database includes over 116,000 respondents and captures over 175,000 adult eating occasions—plus additional teen and child occasions—and represents a unified and nationally representative picture of occasions across the entirety of eating and drinking. Find more information on USA Rice’s Rice Eating Occasions Report here.


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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