Chia seeds see biggest growth among superfoods

22 Jul 2019

Consumer interest in superfoods has grown rapidly over the past decade, and while awareness of foods like turmeric, kale and avocado has risen steadily, the number of Google searches for chia seeds has increased more than 800% since 2009.

UK-based food and technology supplier Sous Vide Tools used Google Trends data to examine how global consumer tastes have changed over the past decade, including tracking the rise of Korean, Vietnamese and Mexican cuisines, for example. It also found that among commonly listed superfoods, chia seeds experienced much stronger growth than any other, as Google searches increased 859% over the period. Turmeric came in second, with 432% growth.

Chia seeds see biggest growth among superfoods
Chia seeds are being used in both sweet and savoury foods

A large part of the popularity of chia seeds can be attributed to their nutritional value, being exceptionally high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fibre, but interest has also been particularly strong in the European Union over the past ten years after they received novel foods approval in 2009. Since then, conditions for their use have been expanded several times on the back of additional novel foods applications.

Now, chia seed suppliers have sprung up all over the world varying in how they are sourced and intended potential applications. For example, Denmark-based Original Chia was one of the first to apply for a novel foods licence to sell its chia seeds in Europe and its products include chia muesli crunch, chia bread mix and chia for use in fruit juice; Bonabio markets its organic fair trade chia seeds as potential ingredients in both sweet and savoury products; and fruit ingredient specialist Taura Natural Ingredients has included chia along with amaranth in fruit flakes for use in breakfast cereals.

And despite being seeds rather than grains, chia seeds (like quinoa) have found their place alongside a host of ancient grains like teff, spelt and sorghum, which gradually have started to become household names. From 2014 to 2015, the number of new foods and drinks launched globally containing chia grew 70%, for example, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. The market researcher also found that 30% of German adults were interested in trying bread containing superfood grains or seeds, and interest among those aged 25-34 was even higher, at 46%. Meanwhile, 30% of pasta consumers in the UK said they thought pasta made with ancient grains was healthier than regular pasta.

Other applications include in the burgeoning iced coffee market, as coffee brands have introduced various ‘super coffee’ products, including with chia seeds. Chia oil also has gained in popularity, driven by increased awareness of the positive nutritional role that healthy fats can play in a balanced diet.

For food manufacturers, developing products with chia seeds continues to hold promise, considering that they tap into many current market trends, from clean label, natural and minimally processed, to free from and high protein. They also fit well with demand for plant-based vegan and vegetarian products, and diet trends like raw and paleo.