Mintel: Chia, prickly pear are ingredients to watch

by Keith Nunes
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CHICAGO — Mintel has identified chia seeds and the prickly pear cactus as two ingredients that are gaining ground in food and beverage formulation. The market research firm said chia seeds have experienced a tenfold increase in ingredient penetration globally between 2009 and 2014.

Chia seeds primarily are used in food product formulations, but Mintel added that chia was included in 12% of beverage launches in 2013, up from zero in 2009. Prickly pear, on the other hand, is primarily used in beverages.

“Although chia, which is a complete protein, has been rumored to reduce food cravings, lower blood pressure and aid in weight loss, studies have been unsuccessful at validating these claims,” said Stephanie Pauk, global food science analyst at Mintel. “That said, manufacturers should keep claims for chia products focused on its nutritional value rather than unproven health claims. Since 65% of U.S. consumers are trying to include plenty of fiber into their diet, manufacturers could use chia’s high fiber content to help set it apart in beverages, as less than 1% of all beverages launched in 2013 used a high fiber claim.”

Fewer than 100 products have been launched globally with a prickly pear ingredient between 2009 and 2013, but the health benefits as well as the plant’s resilient nature make it a promising superfruit in the upcoming years, according to Mintel. The plant is used in Mexico as a hangover cure and to address a range of health conditions, including blood pressure, ulcers and fatigue. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has suggested that prickly pear may be an effective feed for livestock.

“Both chia and prickly pear have a unique opportunity to position themselves as the next big ‘it’ ingredient, given their health benefits and diversity of uses,”  Ms. Pauk said. “For chia, even though it is technically an oilseed, the focus can be on pairing it with ancient grains, as U.S. consumers are becoming more interested in those. In the U.S., 44% of consumers have eaten ancient grains. Using antioxidant-rich and often gluten-free ancient grains such as quinoa or buckwheat with chia could strengthen its healthy positioning. For prickly pear, manufacturers can consider using it as a natural source of taurine and antioxidants for energy drinks or as an added source of fiber.”
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