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Whole Grain Claims in the Marketplace

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Canada's agri-food sector is interested in promoting the nutritional and health benefits of food products through the use of health claims, nutrient content claims and other nutrition information provided on food labels. Recently there has been interest in products containing whole grains because the dietary guidelines recommend increasing their consumption, other jurisdictions have approved health claims and consumer demand is rising. This report examines market penetration and communication of whole grain claims on the labels of food products sold in Canada and in other jurisdictions, their importance to consumers and potential opportunities for promoting the health benefits of whole grains. This information has been compiled from a variety of sources and is supported by data on new product launches bearing whole grain claims entering the market since 2006.Footnote 1

Defining whole grains

The American Association of Cereal Chemists International (AACC) defines whole grains as consisting of the "intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis [grain], whose principal components-the starchy endosperm, germ and bran-are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis" (AACC, 1999). To be considered whole grain, a food may contain intact grains, minimally processed grains, or milled grains from which no component has been removed during the milling process. Grains considered to be a true cereal or pseudocereal by AACC are listed in Table 1. Currently AACC is developing guidance related to the interpretation and application of the whole grain definition when components of the same grain are recombined or when the whole grain is reconstituted from components of different grains.

Table 1: Common Whole Grains
True cereals Pseudocereals
Notice for links to external documents
Source: adapted from official correspondence from AACC International to Health Canada, February 12, 2007 (PDF Version)
*Brown and coloured rices (e.g. black, red) are whole grain.
Wheat including spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, kamut, durums Amaranth
Rice, African rice * Buckwheat, Tartar Buckwheat
Barley Quinoa
Corn (maize, popcorn)
Teff (tef)
Canary Seed
Job's Tears
Fonio, Black Fonio, Asian Millet
Wild Rice

The AACC definition of whole grain has been adopted by several countries, including the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom (U.K.), Sweden and Denmark. Each country has a list of qualifying grains and a list of permitted processing methods. They allow for minor losses of components through traditional processing methods and natural variations that exist between batches of grains. Health Canada has also proposed to adopt the AACC definition into the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations (Health Canada, 2006) and is participating on the AACC committee that is developing the guidance on the interpretation of the definition.

Dietary importance of whole grains

Dietary guidelines in Canada and in other countries recommend consuming whole grain products as a component of healthy eating (Table 2).

Table 2: Some Whole Grain Dietary Recommendations Around the World
Country Guideline Recommendations
*Source: Whole grains for wholesome health, People's Daily Online, January 13, 2010
† based on an English summary of the report's recommendations
Canada Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide (2007) "Make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day. Eat a variety of whole grains such as barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa and wild rice. Enjoy whole grain breads, oatmeal or whole wheat pasta."
Australia Australian Dietary Guidelines (2003) "Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain." Updated guidelines are expected to indicate "mostly whole grain" instead of "preferably whole grain".
China Dietary Guide for Chinese Citizens (2008) The Chinese Ministry of Health and the Chinese Nutrition Society recommend that adults consume a daily average of 50 grams (g) of coarse grain, and that the elderly consume 100 g.*
Denmark National Food Institute report on the health benefits of whole grains (2008) Danes should consume a minimum of 75 g of whole grains daily (based on a 2400 calorie diet; about 63 g daily for a 2000 calorie diet), emphasizing a variety of whole grain products.†
United Kingdom Eatwell Plate (2011) "Try to eat...plenty of bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods - choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can."
United States Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) "Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains."
World Health Organization Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (2004) "For diet, recommendations for populations and individuals should include the following: ... increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, and legumes, whole grains and nuts..."

Marketplace trends for whole grains

Consumers are aware of dietary recommendations for whole grains and they are interested in consuming whole grains for health. In fact, "whole grain" was the most sought-after claim on food labels in 2010 in the U.S., followed by high fibre and low sodium (Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), 2011). Baby boomers, the largest generational group in Canada, will continue to be a big driver in the demand for whole grain products as they look to manage their health and improve or maintain their quality of life through nutrition. They are actively looking for products containing whole grains. As a result, many companies are introducing whole grain products and identifying "whole grain" on product labels.

The general increase since 2007 in the number of new product launches in the market bearing whole grain claims (Figure 1) indicates that industry is responding to consumer demand for whole grain products. New product launches bearing whole grain claims were most prevalent in North America.

Figure 1: Number of New Products in the Global Market Bearing "Whole Grain" Claims

Description of this image follows.

* "Others" include Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Korea, Russia combined
Source: Mintel Global New Products Database (January 1 to April 20, 2011)

Description - Figure 1

Bar chart showing the number of new product launches with whole grain claims from 2007 to 2010 for various regions.

Globally; 2007: 201; 2008: 236; 2009: 213; 2010: 247

Canada; 2007: 32; 2008: 24; 2009: 33; 2010: 53

United States; 2007: 131; 2008: 150; 2009: 99; 2010: 137

European Union; 2007: 23; 2008: 36; 2009: 38; 2010: 19

Australia and New Zealand; 2007: 8; 2008: 18; 2009: 25; 2010: 12

Others (which includes Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Korea and Russia combined); 2007: 7; 2008: 8; 2009: 18; 2010: 26

In Canada, manufacturers of cold cereals, cereal bars and bread and bread products are the most frequent users of whole grain claims (Table 3); these three sub-categories accounted for 74% of Canadian product launches with whole grain claims. The 49 cold cereal products with whole grain claims represent just over one quarter (26%) of the cold cereal category.

Table 3: Product Categories with Whole Grain Claims in Canada, 2007-2011
Sub-Category Number of Products: Total Number of Products With Whole Grain Claims
Source: Mintel Global New Products Database 2011
Baby Snacks 18 3
Baking Ingredients and Mixes 14 1
Bread and Bread Products 153 22
Cakes, Pastries and Sweet Goods 39 2
Cold Cereals 186 49
Fruit Snacks 4 2
Hot Cereals 27 7
Pasta 51 1
Savoury Biscuits/Crackers 53 5
Shelf-stable Desserts 1 1
Snack/Cereal/Energy Bars 97 49
Sweet Biscuits/Cookies 57 15
Wheat and Other Grain Based Snacks 10 4
Total 710 161

There appears to be a continuing trend to add whole grain claims to product labels both globally and in Canada, as indicated by the increase in the number of new product launches over time (Figure 1). Data for the first quarter of 2011 show that 19 new products with whole grain claims have been launched in Canada, 51 in the U.S., and 88 globally (Mintel, 2011).

Figure 2 indicates the total percentage market value growth in the bakery and cereal product category as a whole between 2006 and 2011, including products with and without whole grain claims. The market value of bakery and cereal products has increased every year since 2006 for each country presented and this category appears to have the greatest potential to bear whole grain claims, depending on the formulation.

Figure 2: Market Value Growth of Bakery and Cereal Products, 2006-2011

Description of this image follows.
Description - Figure 2

Bar chart showing the percent market value growth of bakery and cereal products between 2006 and 2011 for various countries.

United States: 17%; Canada: 15%; Germany: 10%; United Kingdom: 15%; France: 7%

Source: Datamonitor Market Data Analytics 2011

Helping consumers identify whole grains

Variations in the existing global definitions for whole grain and whole wheat have made it difficult for consumers to understand food labels and determine what is meant by the terms "whole grain", "multi-grain" and "whole wheat", as well as the various names used for processed grains identified on ingredient lists (Miller Jones, 2010). For example, the standard for whole wheat flour in Canada's Food and Drug Regulations permits up to 5% of the wheat kernel to be removed-which includes much of the germ and some of the bran-to help reduce rancidity and prolong the shelf life of whole wheat flour. Such flour would comply with the Canadian regulations but would not be considered whole grain by the AACC definition. As Canada moves toward adopting the AACC definition, further action will likely be required on flour standards to ensure options are available.

Currently, many companies identify whole grain content by using their own unique logos or by using label claims such as "contains whole grains" and "made with 100% whole grains". The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising (section 4.2.3) recommends that when the presence of an ingredient, component or substance is emphasized, the label should include a statement regarding the amount present in the food. Furthermore, care should be taken when claims are made about whole grains, when the whole grain is not intact, so that consumers are not misled about the composition of the food.

The Whole Grains Council (WGC) and its internationally affiliated groups have developed a logo to identify products containing significant amounts of whole grains. There are two types of Whole Grain Stamp, each showing the amount of whole grains per serving in compliance with the recommendation in the CFIA Guide. The basic Whole Grain Stamp can be used on products containing a minimum of 8 g of whole grains per serving. In Canada, the 100% Whole Grain Stamp can only be used on products that are made entirely with whole grains and that contain a minimum of 16 g of whole grains per serving. The Canadian stamps are also bilingual. To use the stamp, a company must be a paid member of the WGC. The Whole Grain Stamp appeared on 5,800 different products in 23 countries as of August 2011.Footnote 2 In Canada, where it was introduced in 2008, 779 products are registered to use the Whole Grain Stamp.Footnote 3

Whole Grain Stamp developed by the Whole Grains Council
Description of this image preceeds.

Health claim opportunities

Health claims on product labels and in advertising convey information about food characteristics and related health benefits. This information can be used by consumers to choose foods that may help reduce their risk of developing nutrition-related chronic diseases. Manufacturers have some options for supporting informed choice among consumers who are interested in being able to identify whole grains.

Whole grain claims in other jurisdictions

Some jurisdictions have approved health claims related to whole grain consumption. However, more recently, as the definition for whole grains established by AACC in 1999 has received increasing support from the scientific and regulatory community, other jurisdictions have reviewed the evidence and some of them have rejected health claims for whole grains, sometimes in favour of grain-specific claims.

Previously accepted health claims

In 1999, the U.S. was the first country to allow a whole grain health claim:

In 2003, the U.S. permitted a variant of this claim:

In 2002, the U.K accepted:

In 2003, Sweden approved:

New evidence challenges whole grain health claims

When Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) each reviewed the evidence for a health claim (in 2007 and 2010, respectively), many of the studies that supported the above health claims were not considered because the measurement of whole grains was not consistent with the AACC definition. Both FSANZ and EFSA concluded that the evidence provided did not support a claim for whole grains and heart disease risk reduction (FSANZ, 2007; EFSA, 2010).

A Cochrane Review on whole grain cereals for coronary heart disease (CHD) in people with existing CHD or risk factors for CHD found evidence supporting the effects of "whole grain oats" on blood lipids. The reviewers did not find supporting evidence for other whole grains because of a lack of well-designed, long-term randomised controlled trials on whole grain foods and diets other than oats (Kelly et al., 2007).

Whole grain claims in Canada

In Canada, references to Canada's Food Guide are permitted for use on labels and in advertising, provided principles for their use are followed.Footnote 4 This includes a general health claim stating that "Canada's Food Guide recommends making at least half of your grain products whole grain each day." General health claims promote health through healthy eating or provide dietary guidance; they do not refer to a health effect, disease, or health condition.

To date, a disease risk reduction health claim for whole grains has not been accepted for use in Canada. However, in 2012-13, Health Canada expects to publish the results of a systematic review undertaken to determine whether the evidence from intervention and prospective cohort studies supports a health claim for whole grains and cardiovascular disease risk reduction in generally healthy populations.

In 2010, Health Canada accepted a therapeutic health claim that links the consumption of beta-glucan oat fibre to a reduction in blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. For example:

Eligible sources of beta-glucan oat fibre are oat bran, rolled oats (or oatmeal), and whole oat flour, either as the foods themselves or as ingredients in formulated foods. The conditions of use and the claim wording are prescribed in the assessment (Health Canada, 2010).

For a health claim to be approved in Canada, it is necessary to submit a pre-market application prepared according to Health Canada's Guidance Document for Preparing a Submission for Food Health Claims. In response to industry's concern about the level of resources required to meet health claim substantiation standards, Health Canada has developed the Guidance Document for Preparing a Submission for Food Health Claims Using an Existing Systematic Review. This guidance document outlines the requirements for a complete health claim submission based on an existing literature review. Health Canada has identified five regulatory or scientific organizations with standards of evidence similar to Canada's standards, including FSANZ, EFSA and the Cochrane Collaboration. The results of the reviews undertaken by these organizations suggest that additional research gaps need to be addressed prior to making a submission on whole grains.

The Food Regulatory Issues Division (FRID) of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada provides assistance to Canada's agri-food sector in navigating Canada's regulatory system for health claims, novel foods and ingredients.


American Association of Cereal Chemists International. (1999): AACC members agree on definition of whole grain (PDF Version).

Datamonitor (2011): Market Data Analytics. Retrieved April 5, 2011

European Food Safety Authority [EFSA] (2010): Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to whole grain (ID 831, 832, 833, 1126, 1268, 1269, 1270, 1271, 1431) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061.EFSA Journal 8(10):1766.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2007): Wholegrains and coronary heart disease - FSANZ consideration of a commissioned review.

Health Canada (2010): Oat Products and Blood Cholesterol Lowering: Summary of Assessment of a Health Claim about Oat Products and Blood Cholesterol Lowering.

Health Canada (2006): Position Paper on Five US Health Claims Considered for Use in Canada. (Part A, A.2 Definition of whole grain).

Institute of Food Technologists [IFT] (2011). Top 10 Food Trends for 2011.

Kelly SAM, Summerbell CD, Brynes A, Whittaker V, Frost G (2007): Wholegrain cereals for coronary heart disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 2. Art. No.: Cd005051. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005051.pub2

Miller Jones, J. (2010): Regulatory Aspects of Whole Grain and Whole Grain Foods: Definitions and Labelling. Cereal Chem. 87(2):150-154

Mintel (2011): Global New Products Database. Retrieved April 2011

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