Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Nutrient-dense seeds emerge as superfood powerhouse

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Nuts and seeds in the US are finally reaching superfood status, thanks in part to a perfect storm of growing consumer demand for nutrient dense, on-the-go snacks, a diminishing fear of fats and the rising popularity of flexitarian and paleo diets, which both emphasize the power of nuts and seeds as a good source of plant-based protein. 

As a result, sales of nuts, seeds and trail mixes are on the rise with Euromonitor predicting that the retail value of nuts, seeds and trail mixes will climb 0.8% to reach $6.62bn by the end of this year.

Of this trio, seeds appear to be the real powerhouse for growth. According to the nutrition trade magazine Today’s Dietitian’s 5th annual What’s Trending in Nutrition? survey, seeds hold the No. 1 spot in the top 10 list of superfoods for 2017. The magazine’s survey the prior year also highlighted the power of seeds, predicting that their sales would grow 10% for at least the next five years.

Comparatively, nuts are third on the list of top superfoods and are predicted to grow 1.7% in the next five years.

To learn more about the nutritional benefits and marketing potential of seeds in the US, this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast features several manufacturers that showcased products with seeds at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City in mid-June.

The first is Anne-Elise Nutrition LLC, which sells five flavors of Power of 3 Seed Blends that include a base of hemp, pumpkin, chia and flax with spices in sachets and a resealable pouch.

Company founder Anne-Elise Stern explains that each blend represents her company’s power of 3 philosophy, which is about providing a balance of protein, omega3s and fiber. She also explained what attracted her to each of the specific seeds in her blends.

“Hemp has a perfect balance of omega-3s and omega-6s,” and are “full of protein and all kinds of really amazing nutrients that can help your body heal,” she said.

“Chia seeds are so hip right now, but they really are good for you. They have a ton of omega-3 fatty acids and a ton of fiber,” which flax also offers, she said. And finally, she adds, “pumpkin seeds are great because they have a great omega balance and lots of vitamins and minerals and they are delicious.”

In the five years since Stern launched, she has seen the seed category evolve and expand quickly.

“It really has evolved. In 2012, it was kind of like in the infancy stages. It took a lot to explain to people what seeds were and what they did and what omega-3s were, and it seems like it has taken off since then,” both in terms of sales and competition, she said.

SOW showcases versatility of chia seeds

One of the newest brands in the category is Seeds of Wellness, which Benexia launched at the Summer Fancy Food Show in June, according to company representative Paulina Penaloza. She explained that Benexia has 15 years of experience with chia seeds, including making an oil as well as fiber and protein ingredients from the seed for manufacturers. But based on the seed's broad consumer appeal it decided to create a value added retail brand, which became Seeds of Wellness or SOW.

“In SOW we have a line of products based on chia,” including a pasta, toasted chia seeds, a protein shake blend and a flour, she said. “It is a line that is completely gluten free and comes with all the claims that are hot now. We are an ancient grain, we are a superfood, we are plant-based protein,” she added.

Taking a closer look at each component of the line, Penalozaexplained how the chia pasta and the chia flour stand apart from the competition.

The pasta behaves like a whole grain pasta in that it is darker and has a nuttier flavor, while the flour can be used to replace xanthum gum in gluten-free baking because of the jelly-like texture that chia has when it is moistened, she said.

As for the seeds, Penalozasays SOW’s versions are like “chia 2.0” in that some are roasted so that consumers can use them in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups and on fruit, without having to worry about them turning into jelly – which can be a major turn off to some shoppers.

Penalozaalso explained the chia oil is unique in that it is more stable than olive oil and packs several additional nutritional benefits such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Seeds add variety to finished products

While these companies primarily sell seeds as standalone products, they also add dimension to finished products, such as RW Garcia’s snack crackers.

Genelle Chetcuti, the senior director of marketing for RW Garcia explains how and why the company uses seeds.

“Our crackers are a really exciting blend of corn and veggie. … All of them have three seeds, including flax seeds, sesame and chia and the seeds are a great component [because] they give a new flavor to the corn and vegetable base,” she said, explaining, “Flax gives a nutty taste to it and, of course, sesame is a really strong flavor as well, and the chia has a lot of health benefits.”

She adds that consumers are interested in products with seeds because they are looking for products with more fiber, omegas and health benefits – all of which seeds offer.

Smaller packs make seeds more accessible

As much as consumers want healthier products, many are still price sensitive – especially in the conventional channel. As a result, because seeds can be expensive, manufacturers need to innovate ways to lower products’ price points, according to Teresa Neuman of Natierra.

One way Natierra convinces shoppers to pay more for seeds is by covering them with chocolate – adding value and making them a treat worthy of splurging. It also has lowered the price per unit by offering smaller sized shakers, as Neuman explains.

As these companies illustrate, there are lot of ways to use seeds and market them to increasingly aware consumers, but there also is still plenty of room for innovation and growth.

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