Kraft Foods Inc. says it will more than double the amount of whole grain in many of its Nabisco crackers, becoming the latest food maker to respond to consumer and health advocates' demands for improved nutrition from packaged foods.
Kraft will increase the whole grain in more than 100 products over the next three years, the company announced Monday.
As a result, its Ritz and Premium crackers will contain whole grains for the first time. Whole grain will more than double and quadruple in the company's Wheat Thins crackers and in its Honey Maid graham crackers.
Whole grains are considered a part of a healthy diet, adding necessary fiber and nutrients. They help reduce the risk of heart disease, improve digestion, provide essential nutrients and may help control weight, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While most Americans consume enough grains, they often don't get enough whole grains.
Whole grains use the entire grain kernel, but many packaged foods are made with refined grains that have been milled to remove the bran and germ. This process gives the grains a finer texture and helps improve shelf life. But it removes dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins, the USDA says.
Some refined grains are enriched to add certain nutrients back in but not fiber.
Dietary guidelines suggest that adults get at least half of their recommended five to eight ounces of grains per day from whole grain sources.
Kraft said the move was a response to consumer demand for healthier products. The company already used whole grains in its Triscuit crackers and increased the amount of whole grains in its some Wheat Thins products last summer. As a result of these latest changes, some of its products such as Original Wheat Thins and Honey Maid original products will use only whole grains.
"People are looking for more whole grains, we know that they aren't getting enough," said Carlos Abrams-Rivera, vice president of the Nabisco Crackers business.
A number of food makers have reformulated products recently to respond to growing concerns about Americans' diets.
Kellogg Co. announced last June that it was increasing the amount of fiber in its U.S. ready-to-eat cereals by the end of 2010. Last week, the company introduced a new line of FiberPlus cereals with antioxidants.
Kraft, ConAgra Foods Inc., Del Monte Foods Co. and many other large food makers have recently announced sodium reductions. Others have reduced sugar and increased certain nutrients to draw health-conscious shoppers, despite increased scrutiny from federal regulators on the health claims made on their labels.
Kraft, based in Northfield, Ill., said the move is solely a response to consumer demand. The company declined to disclose the cost of the change but said the process has been under way for four years as it tried to find formulas that allowed the addition of whole grains but did not compromise taste or quality.
"We can make products activists or regulators want, but if consumers don't eat them, it doesn't help them or us," said Rhonda Jordan, Kraft's president of health and wellness.
Kraft shares rose 10 cents to close at $29.72 Monday.