In the early 1970s, carbohydrates were under attack. The public perception was then, as it is now, that complex carbohydrates were unnecessary fillers that made wheat foods fattening. The Wheat Foods Council (WFC) was formed in 1972 to combat misinformation and promote the use of more wheat and wheat foods by establishing connections with allied groups and developing programs that changed the narrative around the health of wheat foods. Home economists from Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas were part of the inaugural meeting and very soon thereafter western wheat states also joined WFC. WFC quickly adapted to promote all varieties of wheat produced west of the Mississippi River.
By the 1980s, the Wheat Foods Council was made up of 12 members and two associate members from nine states and by 1988 WFC membership had grown to 31 members. Wheat producer groups, like the Idaho Wheat Commission, funded 99% of the WFC budget and members worked together to plan, fund, and execute the programs and promotional activities on behalf of the organization. Thanks to savvy public relations efforts, not only did the membership of WFC more than double by the end of the 1980s, but the operating budget increased tenfold. Exhibiting and networking at the American School Food Service Association convention, American Dietetic Association meeting, the National Restaurant Association trade show, and the International Food Editors conference reinforced wheat as a nutritious part of a healthy diet.
An expanding budget, national media attention, and active involvement from influential industry members increased consumption of wheat foods, improving the health of the wheat industry and consumers. Seeing what could be accomplished with access to resources, the WFC members voted to amend the WFC bylaws to welcome support from anyone in the wheat-based foods industry and established a board of directors and advisory board at the turn of the 90s.
With the expansion of membership and funding, WFC developed a communications program aimed at major food, nutrition, and lifestyle media outlets. The Council’s long-term communications goal was to change lingering misperceptions that wheat-based foods should be consumed only in very modest quantities. This direction brought in more industry members to WFC, and the baking, milling, pasta, and tortilla industries now shared equally in the budget with the states. By 1997, WFC’s 25th year, there were 46 members and contributors from all segments of the wheat production and wheat foods processing industry. At the time, WFC was the only organization prodding growth nationally for the entire wheat foods industry.
In 2000, the U.S. dietary guidelines separated grain foods from fruits and vegetables and called on Americans to “choose a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains.” Studies showed that consumers were not getting the recommended daily servings of grain foods and this new emphasis on grains helped WFC increase the awareness of the benefits of all wheat – whole, fortified, and enriched – in the diet. Unfortunately, by 2003 bread and wheat-food sales had gone stale with some 32 million Americans on the Atkins and other low carbohydrate, high protein diets. The Wheat Foods Council broadened its approach in 2015 to target personal trainers as a critical, influential target in addition to registered dieticians.
With more than 300,000 personal trainers giving weight loss and weight management advice to their four to five million clients per week, this shift in strategy opened up a large demographic to the messaging of the Wheat Foods Council. The message about the health and nutrition of wheat from those personal trainers through their clients reaches 32-48 million consumers each week. Today, the Wheat Foods Council’s efforts are focused on addressing the misinformation a consumer may get from their personal trainer about fad diets like low carb, Paleo, Keto, and gluten free. The Wheat Foods Council is also working to address the misinformation about “modern wheat” and wheat breeding.
The Wheat Foods Council is a unique organization because it brings together producers, millers, and grain-based food manufacturers to focus on a common goal of increasing wheat foods consumption through nutrition education and promotion programs. It is the only organization Idaho wheat growers help fund through the Idaho Wheat Commission whose mission is domestic market development. Over the years, the organization has established itself as a leading source of science-based information on wheat and grain foods nutrition and continues to work to tackle misinformation and promote the consumption of wheat foods.