Arvin Donley editor of World Grain

Arvin Donley, World Grain editor.


KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US – If you own a television or smartphone, you probably have seen the ubiquitous commercial for Ozempic (“Oh-Oh-Oh Ozempic!” sung to the tune of the 1970s pop hit, “It’s Magic!”). Ozempic is a diabetes/weight-loss drug that has recently surged in popularity in countries like the United States, China and in the European Union.

Why would this drug be of any importance to the grain and milling industries? Ozempic and other GLP-1 drugs suppress appetite, and people using them consume 10% to 20% fewer calories than those who don’t, according to a recent study. Another study found a 30% decline in sweet bakery goods and cookie consumption among GLP-1 users, which has caught the attention of the global flour milling industry, especially soft wheat millers.

“This really has the potential to reshape the industry,” said Peter Levangie, president and chief executive officer of Quincy, Massachusetts, US-based Bay State Milling, during his keynote address at the International Association of Operative Millers Conference and Expo in April in Salt Lake City, Utah, US. “This will have a profound effect and is not going away.”

If Levangie is correct, the milling industry will have to assess how to address its long-term impact. A 30% decline in consumption of several leading refined flour-based products among many millions of people worldwide should not be taken lightly.

An estimated 9 million Americans are taking Ozempic, which is not surprising given the obesity epidemic in the United States, where about 40% of the population is categorized as obese and nearly 12% have diabetes. But diabetes cases are rising in many other countries as well, including China, which has 1.4 billion people, more than half of whom are classified as overweight. Because it’s human nature to seek quick-fix solutions to problems, drugs like Ozempic could have a lasting impact on consumption trends for refined flour-based products, which are still fighting the undeserved reputation of being “unhealthy.” One study found that people who quit taking Ozempic regained two-thirds of the weight they lost within a year, which may incentivize long-term use.

Despite this concerning development, it’s possible Ozempic’s popularity may eventually fizzle. It is very expensive (about $1,000 per month without insurance), and most insurance companies won’t provide coverage if it’s prescribed strictly for weight loss. This lack of affordability eliminates a large segment of the global population. Also, more than 20% of users report side effects, with a smaller percentage reportedly linked to serious illnesses like pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, and stomach paralysis. The drug, which initially was marketed to treat Type 2 diabetes, has only been around since 2017 and wasn’t approved as a weight-loss drug until 2021, so questions remain about its long-term safety.

I began covering the grain and milling industries in 2003, which was at the peak of the low-carb Atkins Diet craze, and industry leaders were rightly concerned about the impact it was having on flour demand. But after several years many dieters grew tired of excluding carbs and reverted to their previous eating habits, which included cookies, doughnuts and other refined flour-based products.

While it’s possible Ozempic is here to stay and will have a long-term impact on flour consumption patterns, don’t discount a scenario in which its popularity fades due to cost, safety concerns, and the desire of some GLP-1 drug users to return to eating foods made from refined flour. Never underestimate the power of the taste bud.

Arvin Donley is editor of World Grain.