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05 Spotlight
Cereal Foods World, Vol. 64, No. 3
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1094/CFW-64-3-0035
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Spotlight on Kathy Wiemer

© 2019 AACC International, Inc.


In this interview with AACCI — Cereals & Grains Association Member Kathy Wiemer, she discusses her career, her work with AACCI, and future challenges and opportunities for cereal grains created by the expanding global food system.

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Q: What is your current position and what type of work do you do?

A: In July 2018, I retired from General Mills as a senior fellow in the Bell Institute of Health & Nutrition. During my nearly 40 years with the company, I held several positions focusing on health and nutrition strategies, which included researching the health and nutrition benefits of grains, particularly whole grains. I led global nutrition policy and regulatory efforts regarding nutrition labeling and claims, dietary guidelines, and government health and nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Q: When and how did you first decide you wanted to work in cereal grain science?

A: I joined General Mills after completing my master’s degree in human nutrition and becoming a registered dietitian. General Mills was, and continues to be, a leading manufacturer of grain-based foods, including Gold Medal flour, Bisquik, Betty Crocker cake mixes, and Hamburger Helper, along with well-known and popular breakfast cereals such as Cheerios, Wheaties, Total, Kix, Lucky Charms, and Trix. It was an incredible and immediate deep dive into the wonderful world of grains. I worked closely with food scientists and home economists who developed products and recipes that required an understanding of the nutritional qualities and benefits of not only the base grain ingredients, but also of the finished products and recipes. It was through this work that I gained an appreciation of the nutritional traits of grains and their benefits, especially oats, wheat, corn, whole grains, and enriched grains. I worked extensively on grain enrichment and fortification, which is an important, yet often misunderstood, area related to grains and grain-based foods.

Q: How have you been involved with the AACCI — Cereals & Grains Association? How has your involvement enriched your career?

A: I have been involved with AACCI peripherally during my whole career and, for about the last 20 years, have been engaged in the Nutrition Division and served on the Whole Grains Working Group (WGWG). One area in which AACCI has been very instrumental is the development of technical definitions related to grains. For example, the WGWG helped establish and recommend the current definition of whole grain that has been adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Having the opportunity through AACCI to work with grain scientists and nutritionists from academia, government, and the food industry has been very rewarding, and the output is very valuable.

Q: In 2019, Cereal Foods World (CFW) is focusing on the global food system (GFS). What is your perspective on how global societal and technology trends are affecting cereal science and the cereal grain industry overall? How will cereal scientists need to adapt to these global trends?

A: First, the global expansion of several dietary patterns (e.g., high fat, higher protein, lower carbohydrate) and of the gluten-free movement are limiting grain consumption. In addition, growing interest in unique and ancient grains is expanding the types of grains that are available. At the same time, there is the negative perception by some consumers that grains have been dramatically changed (through technology) from their original traits, including functional, organoleptic, and nutritional qualities. These societal trends are an important barometer for cereal scientists to explore and understand in order to create successful new products and improve existing ones.

With regard to global technology trends, technologies are being developed that will help cereal scientists address consumer needs. Technological innovations are advancing rapidly, enabling breeding for desirable traits in grains, growing grains sustainably, and modernizing milling and manufacturing processes for grain-based foods.

Q: This issue of CFW explores how emerging global nutrition issues are being shaped by the GFS. Do you have any perspectives concerning the challenges and opportunities associated with the global expansion of the food chain and the dynamics of the global food trade?

A: The impact of the GFS on the expansion of the food chain creates both challenges and opportunities for addressing emerging global nutrition issues. For example, how can we best utilize the GFS to meet the nutritional needs of consumers and to grow, process, and manufacture grain products in more sustainable ways? I firmly believe that collaboration among various sectors, including cereal, nutrition, and social scientists; technology developers; farmers; and food manufacturers will help us find innovative solutions to address global nutrition issues. Additionally, government policies and regulations must be open to these collaborations and technological advances to help their populations grow and prosper.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: After enjoying and embracing more than six months of retirement, I am excited to share that I have just launched a consulting business called Nutrition Edge LLC. It will give me the opportunity to stay connected in nutrition, health, and grains, with a focus on nutrition regulations and policy. It’s an exciting adventure, and I am looking forward to seeing what develops!