ancient grains

Looking Ahead to Ancient Grains

In the past year, more than 250 new foods launched with an ancient grain ingredient. How and why are product manufacturers exploring this growing consumer interest in ancient grains? Firebird’s Vice President of Sales, Mike Hallman, weighs in on consumer trends and the value ancient grains bring manufacturers’ expanding product line.

What Are Ancient Grains?

Ancient grains consist of a group of grains (or seeds), pseudograins and pseudocereals. Most are gluten-free, are a source of plant protein, and include products such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff. They offer high values of B-group vitamins, and minerals like magnesium and phosphorus, and are high in protein and fiber.

Why Ancient Grains Continue to Get Our Attention

Consumers are looking for healthy product varieties, better-for-you snacking and plant proteins. Ancient grains can meet these demands. At seven to 16% protein, grains are a good source of protein for a wide variety of consumer products and baked goods which resonates with companies looking to expand their product lines. “We have seen increased interest in the marketplace particularly in snacks,” said Hallman.  “Ancient grains provide vast nutritional benefits and appeal to consumers seeking better-for-you snacking.”

Hallman goes on to explain, “Pretzels have been popular with gluten-free consumers and the standard formula has been based on tapioca, potatoes and corn starch. However, for a gluten-free consumer or someone looking for a healthier carbohydrate, we’ve seen companies differentiate pretzels with multi-grains and anticipate their continued growth.”

Furthermore, research shows companies that embrace ancient grains and apply them to their product mix will see results.  In a Packaged Facts survey, about a fifth of American adults say they’ve recently bought ancient grain items off a menu or grocery store shelf. These consumers certainly impact the higher margin end of the CPG market. Package Facts also reports the salty snacks category (and other categories) accounts for 65% of gluten-free market share. Manufacturers are also incorporating ancient grains, pulses, and vegetables to add health benefits.

In addition to nutritional benefits, these novel ingredients offer a variety of interesting flavor profiles which only adds to their popularity. Ingredients that taste good is key to successful product growth. In fact, Hallman suggests taste has become just as important as nutrition, “Consumers are still purchasing regular snacks, but people are selecting snacks with more healthier ingredients to ensure they are eating positively – or mindful of the nutrient value of snacks. When it comes to baking, companies are re-evaluating the use of ancient grains because they have a distinctive taste over the traditional tapioca, potato starch and rice.”

How Manufacturers Meet Consumer Needs and Compete in the Marketplace

To stay ahead of the competition, Hallman advises companies should consider adding new forms of popular ancient grains, “In an attempt to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, companies are beginning to incorporate new forms of quinoa into their products for example.” For example, we are seeing quinoa puffs and flakes used in dry mixes, granolas, cereals and protein bars that are favorable among consumers.”

One of the more recent trends impacting product growth is consumer demand for grain-free seeds, nuts and roots. Because ancient grains are seeds, ingredients such as sorghum, millet, quinoa and buckwheat have great appeal.  Taking a fresh look at ingredients allows manufacturers to evaluate current products and consider new options that were not at the forefront in the past.

“At Firebird, we look to help educate and encourage our customers to think about various ancient grains and pulses and the value they provide. For example, we know teff and quinoa provide valuable protein content which makes it popular with manufacturers. Yet, if you look at buckwheat as a nutritious ancient grain, you’ll find buckwheat protein is comparable to teff and quinoa and 30% higher in fiber in teff and quinoa. Companies may find buckwheat is a better fit for their type of product all the while providing nutritional benefits,” said Hallman.

Baking, snacking, baby food and other markets can take advantage of ancient grains to reach business goals and enhance product lines. The perceived healthiness of ancient grains as a benefit is not going away and consumer demand will continue to rise. If you’d like to talk about how Firebird can help add new, healthy and nutritious ingredients to your product formulation, contact us today for a free consultation. Give us a call at 701-324-4330 or email us at


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