Quinoa and other “ancient grains” into mainstream trend

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th January 2014
Chia seeds and other "ancient grains" are becoming a mainstream trend

New products containing so-called “ancient grains”, such as quinoa, chia, buckwheat, hemp and amaranth, are continuing to return to consumers’ diets,  have been rising strongly in recent years, according to findings from market research organisation Innova Market Insights.

Innova Market Insights said the rise in popularity of these grains reflects rising levels of awareness of their nutritional properties, as well as the flavours they can impart to food and drink products.

Quinoa products rise more than five-fold in five years

Launches of products containing quinoa rose nearly 50 per cent over the 12 months to the end of September 2013, and have risen more than five-fold over a five-year period, according to Innova Market Insights. Rising interest in the US has been largely responsible for this growth, although launches are also becoming increasingly common in Europe.

Quinoa, a small, light-coloured round grain with a distinctive “nutty earthy” flavour, is indigenous to South America, where the Incas regarded it as the “mother of all grains”. As well as finding a place in a variety of different grain-based food categories, including breakfast cereals, snack bars and biscuits, activity in other sectors also rose to include confectionery, beverages, ready meals and baby foods.

The use of quinoa in baby foods was particularly evident in recent months, with US launches including Plum Organics Might 4 Essential Nutrient Blends in the US, Biobim Mixed Vegetables with Quinoa organic jarred baby meals in the UK, and Babybio cereals featuring quinoa in France. There was also a focus on gluten-free formulations in launches featuring quinoa, with 38 per cent using a gluten-free positioning in the 12 months to the end of September 2013.

Chia showing similar growth rate

Another upcoming “ancient grain” in chia, a Latin American annual herb that is high in protein, dietary fibre and antioxidants, with a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in its oil. Although much less established than quinoa, chia showed a similar growth rate, according to Innova Market Insights.

Innova Market Insights said launches of products containing chia rose from “probably single figures” five years ago to numbers in the hundreds, with an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the 12 months to the end of September 2013. The US dominated activity, accounting for nearly half of the total introductions recorded.

Launches ranged across a number of sectors, including soft drinks such as ‘Ahhmigo’s Chia and Water’ with chia fibre, omega-3 and protein to “keep consumers hydrated and satiated”, snacks such as Lesser Evil’s Chia Crisps, and cereals such as Nature’s Path Organics Qi’a “superfood” breakfast cereal made with a blend of chia, hemp and buckwheat.

Move into mainstream

Perhaps most significant for “ancient grains”, however, has been the move more squarely into the mainstream, with products such as Kellogg’s recently launched Special K Nourish multigrain cereals and cereal bars made with quinoa in combination with oats, barley and wheat.

“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,” she said.

“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,” Ms Williams said.