Ancient grains maintain strong NPD momentum, Innova Market Insights reports

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23 Oct 2017 --- The resurgence in ancient grains in recent years reflects rising levels of interest in alternative grain products that are positioned as traditional, natural and nutritious, with some also suitable for on-trend gluten-free formulations, Innova Market Insights reports. While just 0.5 percent of the global food and drinks launches recorded by Innova Market Insights ten years ago featured ancient grains as ingredients, numbers doubled to over 1 percent five years ago, before reaching over 2.5 percent in the 12 months to the end of August 2017, rising to over 3 percent in the US.

Exact definitions of what constitutes an ancient grain vary, but it is generally agreed that these 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. 

Click to EnlargeMoving into mainstream
Many products feature a range of ancient grains, although quinoa is often credited with leading the move into the mainstream, particularly in the US. It leads in terms of activity and featured in over 40 percent of US launches featuring ancient grains, showing its move from the specialist arena to high-profile fashion ingredient. It is no longer that far ahead of chia on 38 percent, however, with millet coming in third on 22.5 percent.

Globally, the picture is slightly different, with quinoa in just over one-third of launches featuring ancient grains, ahead of chia on just over 24 percent and buckwheat with just over 22 percent. Buckwheat is particularly popular in Europe, where it is traditionally strong and featured in over 27 percent of launches in the region, putting it nearly on a par with quinoa.

Less popular but also benefiting from the interest in ancient grains, there are options such as spelt, triticale, amaranth, kamut and teff. They are all often used in combination with one or more other ancient grains, as well as more standard ingredients.

Although ancient grains have featured in most food and drinks categories to some extent in recent years, launch numbers globally have been highest in bakery, ready meals and cereals. Snacks have also seen significant levels of activity, particularly in the US. These four sub-categories accounted for nearly 72 percent of global launches recorded in the 12 months to the end of August 2017, falling to nearer two-thirds in the US, where demand is more developed and fragmented.

Australia’s The Chia Co recently launched new varieties of its chia pods – Oats+Quinoa and Cranberry+Coconut flavors. Other flavors in the range include Vanilla Bean, Dark Cacao, Coconut and Apple Spice. Chia Pods can eaten hot or cold and can be heated up in the microwave.

Some individual sub-categories saw particularly high penetration levels, led by other meal components (largely made up of grain products) in ready meals on 32 percent, rising to over 40 percent in the US. 

The Chia Booster range is marketed as a convenient way to add a nutritional boost to food, as it contains a source of fiber, omega 3 ALA and protein. These plant based chia boosters are vegan friendly, free from artificial flavors and colors and have no added salt. The aim is to assist consumers as they create healthy and convenient meals.

“With rising levels of awareness of their nutritional properties as well as the unique flavors and textures that they can impart to a wide range of food and drinks products,” Lu Ann Williams, Innova Market Insights Director of Innovation, says that “ancient grains seem set to continue their return to consumers’ diets.”

“They are also compatible with other key trends, including: the increasing demand for clean label and free from options; the rise in popularity of vegan-friendly products; and interest in specialist diets such as paleo, raw and even low FODMAP,” Williams concludes.

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