Move over kale, seaweed is here

Mintel predicts seaweed could become the next super-food trend in the west

Seaweed could soon be making its way from the beauty aisle to the snack aisle.

A new report from Mintel predicted seaweed could become the next super-food trend in the west, with the number of seaweed flavoured food and drink products increasing 76% in North America and 147% in Europe between 2011 and 2015.

It is important to note, however, that those growth figures are based on incredibly small numbers. According to Mintel, less than 1% (0.118%) of all North American food and drink launches in 2015 contained seaweed flavour (compared to 0.067% in 2011), while in Europe the percentage rose to 0.076% from 0.03%.

Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst at Mintel, said while seaweed remained “somewhat niche” in North America and Europe, its abundance of natural vitamins, minerals and plant-based protein addresses the Western world’s ongoing quest for naturally functional foods and alternative protein sources.

North America launched 4% of all seaweed-flavoured food and drinks globally between 2011 and 2015 according to Mintel, trailing behind Europe (7%) and well behind the Asia-Pacific region (88%).

The report said the seaweed health halo represented a “big opportunity” for western manufacturers, particularly in the snack category.

Its research found 30% of U.S. snacking consumers said they snacked on healthier foods in 2015, with 60% wishing for a greater assortment of healthy snack options. In Canada, 67% of salty snack buyers said there were more healthy snack options than ever before.

This is in line with European attitudes towards healthier options, with 30% of Italian consumers, 36% of Polish consumers and 37% of Spanish consumers saying they would like to see a wider variety of healthy snacks.

The research company’s Global New Products Database found consumer preferences are reflected in new product activity, with 85% of seaweed-flavoured food and drink launches in North America occurring in the snack category. In Europe, two of every five seaweed-flavoured food and drink launches (37%) were in the snack category.

Major players in the seaweed snacks category include SeaSnax, GimMe Health and Annie Chun, while U.S. supermarket chain Trader Joes also boasts a line of seafood snacks.

Annie Chun – which specializes in Asian products including noodle soups, pot-stickers and seaweed snacks – was generating about US$15 million in annual sales when founders Annie Chun and her husband and business partner Steve Broad sold it to South Korea’s CJ Foods in 2009. She subsequently launched GimMe Health, which specializes solely in seaweed products.

The key for manufacturers, said Mintel, is to ensure these products deliver on taste. More than half of Canadian consumers who buy salty snacks (56%) said the taste is more important than health benefits. Those numbers are even higher in Europe, with 56% of Italians, 57% of Spanish, 62% of French and 70% of Germans saying taste is more important than calories when indulging in snack foods.

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