Seed of flavor and health

by Allison Gibeson
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As manufacturers continue to differentiate their products through taste and health and wellness attributes, using seeds may be a way that companies achieve a unique market position.

“The beauty of seeds is they are a nutrition-dense food ingredient — they are packed with omega-3s,” said Nicole Dawes, chief executive officer and co-founder of Late July Organic Snacks, Barnstable, Mass. “The challenge with many of them, like flax, is they can have a bit of an aftertaste. There is always weighing how much you can include for the nutrition versus when it becomes a negative to the taste profile.”

Late July has several multigrain snack chips containing seeds, in-cluding flax and chia.

Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG trend insight with Mintel International, Chicago, said sesame seeds are the most widely used seed in products, while poppy and flax seeds also are used routinely. The association of seeds with fiber, antioxidants and healthy oils has been a driver in interest. The growth in the use of seeds even led Ms. Dornblaser to name seeds as a major flavor and ingredient prediction to watch for the coming year.

Consumers are becoming more familiar with chia seeds, but the seed is still mainly in the natural foods market channel, Ms. Dornblaser said. She noted flax seed made the transition from natural foods markets into mainstream during the past several years. Flax seeds and chia seeds need to be marketed almost exclusively on health benefits as they do not necessarily have a notable taste, she said.

Yet Ms. Dornblaser said even more important to consumers than the health benefits is how unique seeds make the taste profile of a product.

“It’s something a little different, a little fun and has the bonus of having some ingredients that are good for you,” she said.

Seasonings, crackers and chips are the most active areas of product development with seeds. Ms. Dornblaser said breakfast cereal and prepared meals and meal components also will be areas for development in the future. One of the challenges in developing products with seeds is the impact it has on product costs. Ms. Dornblaser noted many bakery products with seeds tend to be premium offerings. And even though consumers are going for small treats, she emphasized that consumers are still tightening their belts.

“There is a flip side, and that is as products are able to leverage seeds and talk about health — that becomes a positive that sometimes outweighs the additional cost,” Ms. Dornblaser said.

She added that the use of seeds seems like a natural continuation of the use of ancient grains.

“It’s about offering something that … has a unique taste profile,” she said. “That’s smart for companies because that helps their products stand out from their competitors.”

Ms. Dawes said from an allergy standpoint, seeds are effective because they do not have a high incidence of allergies compared with other ingredients. She said the fact her company’s chips also contain whole grain goes hand-in-hand with the use of the seeds.

Ms. Dawes said when developing products with seeds the most important consideration is the end goal from a taste perspective. She said manufacturers must ask themselves if their goal is to highlight the flavor of a specific seed or if the goal is for seeds to be part of the overall experience of the product. Ms. Dawes said her company has worked to incorporate the seeds as a part of the whole product.

Consumers still have much to learn about the benefits of seeds, and Ms. Dawes said her company works closely with retailers to put on in-store demonstrations to help educate consumers.

Joe Papiri, vice-president of sales and marketing for Snak King Corp., said his company uses flax and chia seeds for the omega-3 fatty acid benefit. Snak King produces The Whole Earth brand, which offers the Really Seedy Multigrain Tortilla Chips brand.

Mr. Papiri said the next product with seeds the company is developing will be a seed cluster product, similar in concept to a nut cluster. When it comes to important considerations when formulating products, Mr. Papiri said there is a maximum amount of seeds that may be used for the product to still run smoothly through the production line. He said there may be challenges in the sheeting process if the seeds are too big.

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