Julian Mellentin, director of New Nutrition Business and author of The Next Big Opportunity in Snacking: Five Steps to Creating a Success with Seaweed, told BakeryandSnacks that retail sales of seaweed snacks in the US were valued at $250m in 2014.
Snacks such as seaweed-based crackers are chips are popping up in more grocery store aisles than ever.
This past year saw market growth of about 30%, something Mellentin expects to continue as the snack industry adopts this ingredient.
He specifically called out kale, a popular leafy-green in its natural form and snack form. However, he said seaweed is currently outstripping kale in sales.
“Unlike kale, which is just one plant, there are tens, even hundreds, of different types of commercially available seaweeds, which can be processed into a wide array of product forms,” Mellentin said. “Thanks to improvements in processing technology seaweed is much easier to work with than say 10 years ago. This means that there are big – and so-far largely under-developed – opportunities for [new product development].”
Last year, 27 seaweed snack products were launched in the US and 57 in Europe, according to Mellentin’s report.
In the first seven months of 2015, a further 17 new snacking products featuring seaweed were launched in the US and 40 in Europe.
Health and manufacturer benefits
Seaweed’s natural healthy stature is one that will help its sales, Mellentin said.
People want indulgent snacks sometimes, but snacking without guilt is becoming more popular across the snacks category.
Seaweed offers a low fat, protein and vitamin packed snack that has “no bad associations,” Mellentin said.
This healthy association will likely only become more important, as Mintel cited 33% of people said they are “snacking on healthier foods this year compared to last year”.
In addition, seaweed may give more flexibility to the gluten-free manufacturing market, as Mintel reported that gluten-free snacks increased in sales by 163% from 2012 to 2014. Overall, this has meant sales of $2.8 billion.
Not a question of trend
The popularity and ascent of seaweed is not a question of “trendy,” Mellentin said, as the US diet is changing and more people are looking for plant-based foods that are both tasty and healthy.
Especially for people who have grown up with seaweed as an ingredient in sushi and other snacks, as well as snack explorers, seaweed will likely soon see an even sharper rise in sales, he said.
“Seaweed will never rival potato chips – nor should it try,” he said. “But it will become a billion-dollar business in the US – just as hummus did. Seaweed is already an everyday food in many parts of Asia and in the west we have a track-record of embracing Asian foods and making them everyday foods – as we did with tea, energy drinks, probiotic yoghurts, soy milk and many, many others.”
It won’t stop at seaweed, Mellentin said.
Any ingredient that is “naturally healthy” and can be extruded, formed, pressed or blended into a snack to taste good will more than likely be explored in the near future. This may not cover the entire base of eaters, but he believes the 10% to 20% of early adopters will take to unique ingredients such as seaweed quite readily.