FARGO, ND. — Dairy desserts could be the next category for ancient grains to break into.

“My colleagues and I, we talk regularly about how do we expand and connect with brands that aren’t necessarily in the baking space,” said Charles Steenwyk, director of emerging nutrition for the ancient grains and heirloom wheat categories at Ardent Mills, on June 25 at the Northern Crops Institute’s third annual Ancient Grains Conference in Fargo.

He pointed to Yasso strawberry chocolate crunch Greek yogurt bars, which contain quinoa crisps, already on the market. Entering the dairy dessert category will take work, though.

“A lot of different bakeries, they don’t necessarily have a dessert division,” Steenwyk said. “With some of the major CPGs, you may find some overlap, but you’re working with completely different business units (within the consumer packaged goods company). So it’s difficult to meet those connections.”

Smaller, independently owned brands that have national distribution might be a better option. Those brands can take an innovative concept and then have a finished product on the shelf within a year, he said.

Outside the dairy category, Steenwyk said True North nut clusters blueberry chia nut crunch, with puffed amaranth seeds, and Plum Organics toddler food, with quinoa flakes, are other products containing ancient grains.

An Ardent Mills’ survey found 70% of respondents said they wished ancient grains were included in more foods where they shop for groceries and 68% said they wished ancient grains were included in more items at restaurants they frequent, Steenwyk said.

Educating consumers about specific ancient grains should increase sales, too.

“There is a direct correlation between familiarity and an increase in the likelihood to buy,” Steenwyk said.

Ardent Mills data showed 58% of consumers said they were familiar with quinoa, and 27% said they planned to eat or buy more of it over the next 12 months. Other percentages were 48% and 22% for buckwheat and 36% and 14% for millet.

Much has changed in the ancient grains category over the past 10 years.

“Brands have really changed their approach on what they will accept and not accept from suppliers,” Steenwyk said. “Ten years ago, if you wanted to sell quinoa to somebody, just having access to bring the product to them was enough. That’s changed.”

Food companies today, he said, want to know much more about ancient grains, like how the product performs in different applications, what the nutritional values are and whether the ancient grains add viscosity.

Consumers are more knowledgeable, too.

“Consumers are really interested in ancient grains,” Steenwyk said. “The more they learn, the more they are interested and want to learn more.”