ELK RIVER, MINN. — Consumers interested in diets like paleo and the Whole30 program view ancient grains positively, said Shrene White, director of specialty grains at Ardent Mills. So do consumers interested in regenerative agriculture, heart health and gluten-free items, she added.

“There is a lot of opportunity for us to participate in all of these different markets,” Ms. White said in her morning keynote presentation July 20 at the Northern Crops Institute’s first annual ancient grains conference, which was held at the Oliver Kelley Farm outside Elk River. “It’s not like a few years ago when the whole industry went to the Atkins’ diet and we saw wheat consumption tank.”

Ardent Mills proprietary research found 58% of respondents “strongly agreed” that ancient grains are nutritious. The percentages of consumers saying “strongly agree” for other ancient grain attributes were 48% for authentic, 46% for high quality, 45% for healthier/better for me and 43% for having a compelling story.

Denver-based Ardent Mills tells the story of how it contracts with growers in Colorado to source quinoa domestically through an exclusive partnership with Colorado Quinoa, which supports local farmers and promotes water conservation, soil health and growth.

“(Consumers) love the story,” Ms. White said. “They love it when I can introduce them to Paul New from Colorado who is growing quinoa.”

When asked their interest in purchasing products with ancient grains, 26% of respondents in the Ardent Mills research said they definitely would and 38% said they probably would. Ardent Mills found consumers would be willing to spend 10% to 15% more for a retail product that includes ancient grains, Ms. White said.

“Regardless of what diet, they see ancient grains as being healthy,” Ms. White said. “They see ancient grains as being authentic.”

Consumers experimented while baking at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and “pushed the boundaries,” Ms. White said. Now, bakeries are doing the same to pique interest in those consumers.

“A lot of our customers today are coming up and saying, ‘Help me put spelt into a sweet roll. What can I do with quinoa or buckwheat?’” Ms. White said. “They want to push the boundaries. They want to find new and exciting ways to use these ingredients.”