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Agriculture is key to our state's economy, culture, and history. It is our leading industry with roughly $16 billion contributed to the Natural State economy each year. With rice, soybeans, cotton, corn, cattle, and wheat, we at Arkansas Public Media pledge to report on issues that impact not just this industry, but this leading way of life in our state.

Rice 'Pretenders' Irk Arkansas's Rice Industry

Ann Kenda
Products, such as these, that use the words "rice" or "riced" but contain vegetables instead of the grain are raising the ire of Arkansas's rice industry.

A dispute is brewing between Arkansas’s rice industry and makers of other products over ownership of the word “rice” and the right to market foods as such.

“It is a grain, not a shape,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward with the Arkansas Rice Federation.

Ward and others are asking Arkansas’ federal delegation for some help in appealing to the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of the words "rice" and "riced" on products that do not contain grains.

Ward said rice is a significant sector of the Arkansas economy, with some 2,500 rice farms contributing billions to the state economy every year and supporting about 25,000 jobs, including many in the state’s most rural areas.

But Ward said the dispute over the name isn’t about the rice industry as much as it is about consumers and their right to know what they are buying and eating.

Ward said products marketed as "cauliflower rice" are confusing to consumers, since they use the word "rice" but have a very different nutritional profile than rice.

Others countered that “rice” is a generic enough word that no one industry can claim ownership.  It is similar to the word “noodle,” according to Gina Nucci, director of corporate marketing with Mann’s Packing.

Some of Mann’s product Nourish Bowls contain rice, but some contain “cauliflower rice,” which is lower in carbohydrates.

“I think people know rice as rice and 'cauliflower rice' as cauliflower rice,” said Nucci.  

She said Mann’s has found that consumers strongly prefer to open a bag of pre-made cauliflower rice, rather than taking the time to wash a head of cauliflower and run it through a food processor to get it diced up into small bits.

Nucci said cauliflower rice fits in well with many consumers’ desire to stick to lower carb options and substitute vegetables for grains.

Matthew Sligar, a rice farmer in California who makes videos for Rice Farming TV on YouTube, says he has nothing against vegetables, but they shouldn't adopt the name of grains in their marketing tactics.

Matthew Sligar, a rice farmer in California and commentator who makes YouTube videos about the rice farming industry, said he wonders why cauliflower has to attach the name of another food product in order to make sales.

“In terms of nutrition, I think they are creating a false correlation,” he said, pointing to cauliflower rice products being marketed as having 80 percent less carbohydrates than rice.  “They are comparing something that is not even in the same group on the food pyramid, so of course there’s differences in nutritional value.”

Rice industry leaders point to campaigns such as Move Over, Rice, and Reimagine Your Rice, as evidence that vegetable marketers intend to challenge the grain for the name.

With marketing campaigns such as Move Over, Rice, and Reimagine Your Rice, manufacturers of cauliflower rice have left little doubt that, as Ward put it, they plan to capitalize on the success of the rice industry.

According to local horticulturalists, cauliflower is not grown on a large commercial scale in Arkansas and can be a challenging crop for even home gardeners.

State Rep. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) said he will work on a resolution later this month to encourage Arkansas’s federal representatives to seek action from the FDA.  

Ann Kenda
This bag of Boulder Canyon's Riced Cauliflower available for sale at a natural grocery store in Jonesboro this month appeared to head off any controversy over the name by specifying on the package that it was made from one ingredient: cauliflower.

A rice farmer himself, Johnson said cauliflower rice manufacturers are not entitled to ally themselves with the Arkansas rice industry, by name, reputation or history.

“They can do their own marketing and appeal to the public with their own merits, like rice has,” he said.

Matthew Sligar, a rice farmer and YouTube commentator in California, disputes that 'riced' is a verb.

Gina Nucci, a marketing director with Mann's Packing, argues that 'riced' is commonly understood and used.


This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.


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