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Review finds wholegrain ingredient code provides clarity for product content

A recent study has found the number of eligible products making wholegrain claims has increased by 71 per cent since 2013.
Photo: GLNC

Across the globe and at home, we are not eating enough wholegrain products.

Food labelling has always been considered an important policy tool in promoting healthier food choices, including nutrition content and health claims that draw attention to certain health benefits or nutritional characteristics of a product.

In Australia, these voluntary claims are regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) - with the exception being claims for wholegrain.

Until recently, wholegrain content of foods was unregulated, with manufacturers able to make any number of claims to promote the wholegrain content of their products.

In 2013, the voluntary Code of Practice for Wholegrain Ingredient Content Claims was established by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), to provide guidance for wholegrain claims and suggested on-pack wording.

Three claim levels

The code provides three levels of declarable wholegrain claim for eligible products, ensuring consistency in the wholegrain category:

  • more than eight grams is "a source of wholegrain";
  • more than 16g is "high in wholegrain"; and
  • more than 24g is "very high in wholegrain".

These recommendations are set against GLNC's established 48g daily target intake for wholegrain, which was developed for adults and children aged nine or older.

The code was developed as a result of a clear disconnect between consumer advice on including wholegrain foods and current consumption levels.

The recommendation to choose "mainly wholegrain foods" has featured consistently in the Australian Dietary Guidelines since their inception in 1979 and is similarly promoted in many other guidelines, including those in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Despite this, wholegrain consumption falls short in most countries, with Australia being no exception.

What's on plates

A 2017 Consumption Study by GLNC showed that the average Australian was eating just 26g of wholegrains a day - just half the recommended amount for good health.

The same study noted that the main barriers to wholegrain consumption included lack of knowledge on where to find them or of their health benefits, alongside negative sensory perception.

In order to establish how effective the code has been, GLNC conducted an assessment of the impact on wholegrain levels in industry in 2019, with encouraging outcomes.

The report analysed manufacturer uptake of the code, changes in numbers of wholegrain products, claims on-pack, as well as compliance with the code regulations and was published in the journal Nutrients earlier this year.

Jump in wholegrain claims

Assessment data showed a significant change in wholegrain claims in the market, with a 71 per cent increase in the number of eligible foods making wholegrain claims since the code's launch in 2013.

This outcome alone demonstrates strong uptake of the code by industry, ensuring clearer, more consistent on-pack communication around wholegrain content, with 33 manufacturers and 664 products registered with the code as at 30 June 2019.

In addition, the data highlights which categories are making wholegrain claims:

  • breakfast cereals made the greatest number at 61 per cent;
  • followed by half of all grain-based muesli bars;
  • a quarter (26 per cent) of crispbreads, crackers, rice and corn cakes;
  • 17 per cent of bread products; and
  • only 7 per cent of pasta, rice, noodles, couscous and other grains.

In the six years since its launch, the code has registered nearly two-thirds of eligible wholegrain products on supermarket shelves, the number of wholegrain products on shelves has increased and there is more communication about wholegrain on-pack.

All these outcomes ensure consistency in the growing wholegrain space and enables consumers to make more informed, evidence-based decisions when deciding on grain-based foods.

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