Last October, I reported on the growth of seaweed snacks and how they were on track to overtake the ever-popular kale. In fact, U.S. retail sales of seaweed snacks were valued at more than $250 million in 2014, a year when market growth was around 3 percent, and the last two years have seen a surge in launches of snack products with seaweed.
So why is this important? Many seaweed species have a variety of health benefits, and contain among other things, beneficial proteins, antioxidants, minerals, trace elements, dietary fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids. What's more, plant-based ingredients are in high demand from health-conscious consumers.
A study published in the journal Phycologia suggested adding seaweed to processed foods such as frozen pizzas, hot dogs and dried pasta, can reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) because its content of potassium salts doesn’t lead to high blood pressure unlike sodium salts typically used in processed food. Dried and granulated seaweed can replace some of the flour when producing dry pasta, bread, pizza, snack bars, etc. In meat products, seaweed can increase dietary fiber and antioxidants, and could help to lower cholesterol levels.
So this brings me to the point of my blog. Seaweed also has umami, the fifth basic taste, which is known to promote satiety and regulate food intake. The inherent health benefits in seaweed allow it to fit naturally into the healthy snack category. But even though consumers’ interest in health-enhancing food continues to increase, seaweed snacks will need to deliver on flavor in order to be successful with Western consumers.
In fact, new market data from Mintel suggests seaweed-flavored food and beverages are set to be the next big superfood trend in Europe. According to Mintel, food and beverage product launches with seaweed flavors, including kombu, nori/laver, and wakame seaweed flavors, have increased by 147 percent in Europe between 2011 and 2015. This growth means Europe is now the second most-innovative region globally when it comes to seaweed-flavored food and beverage launches.
While the majority of seaweed-flavored food and beverage products currently are launched in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for 88 percent of global product launches between 2011 and 2015, Europe launched 7 percent of seaweed-flavored foods and beverages globally in this time, outpacing both North America (4 percent) and Latin America (1 percent).
“While still somewhat niche in Europe, we believe that seaweed could become the next superfood. Due to its abundance in natural vitamins, minerals, and plant-based protein, seaweed speaks to the growing quest for naturally functional foods and alternative protein sources in the West," said Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst, Mintel. “As consumer demand for low-salt products grows, food and drink offerings that reduce the intake of dietary sodium are increasingly popular."
Seaweed is a natural way to substitute salt and it exhibits antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties which may lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, or aid in digestion and weight management.
Seaweed’s health halo presents a big opportunity for manufacturers in the West, especially in the snack category. Consumer demand is mirrored in recent launch activity, as 37 percent of seaweed-flavored food and beverage launches in Europe between 2011 and 2015 took place in the snack category, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). Other top categories for new product development in Europe include sauces and seasonings (12 percent), bakery (9 percent) and soup (8 percent).