Global demand strengthens for ancient grains

by Eric Schroeder
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DUIVEN, THE NETHERLANDS — Global new product launches featuring quinoa grew nearly 50% in the year ended Sept. 30, 2013, and have risen more than five-fold over a five-year period, according to Innova Market Insights. The increases reflect an overall interest by consumers in ancient grains and their nutritional properties, as well as the unique flavors that they can add to a wide range of food and drinks products.

Innova said demand from U.S. consumers largely has been responsible for the growth in quinoa new product launches, although new items now are becoming increasingly common in Europe.

Quinoa is a small, light-colored round grain with a distinctive nutty earthy flavor. It is indigenous to South America, where the Incas regarded it as the “mother of all grains.” The grain is used in a variety of grain-based foods categories, including breakfast cereals, snack bars and biscuits, as well as several other segments, including confectionery, beverages, ready meals and baby foods. Click for a slideshow of products made with quinoa.

Innova said the use of quinoa in baby foods has been particularly evident in recent months, with U.S. launches such as Plum Organics Mighty 4 Essential Nutrient Blends in the United States, Biobim Mixed Vegetables with Quinoa organic jarred baby meals in the United Kingdom and Babybio cereals featuring quinoa in France. There is also a focus on gluten-free formulations, with 38% of launches featuring quinoa using a gluten-free positioning in the year ended Sept. 30.

In addition to quinoa, chia also is gaining favor as an ancient grain. Chia is a Latin American annual herb high in protein, dietary fiber and antioxidants, with a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in its oil. Launches of products containing chia rose from probably single figures five years ago to in the hundreds now, with an increase of nearly 50% in the year ended Sept. 30, Innova said.

Demand for chia has been propelled by activity in the United States, where nearly half of the total introductions were recorded, Innova said. Launches ranged across a number of sectors, including soft drinks with Ahhmigo’s Chia & Water with chia fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and protein to keep consumers “hydrated and satiated”; snacks with Lesser Evil’s Chia Crisps; and cereals with Nature’s Path Organic’s Qi’a “superfood” breakfast cereal made with a blend of chia, hemp and buckwheat.

“Ancient grains were once very popular basic food cereals, but faded away and became largely obsolete in many countries, with the rise of modern cereal crops, such as wheat and corn,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights. “Interest in these alternative grain products perceived as traditional, natural and nutritious has become increasingly apparent, and their use is extending out of the specialist health foods sector and into the mainstream, as well as out of cereal products and into the wider processed foods market.”
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