Opportunities and Challenges for Ancient Grains in Latin America

The use of ancient grains and seeds within packaged food is growing in Latin America, and the product categories incorporating these ingredients are diverse. As an example, we analysed the case of quinoa using Euromonitor International’s global e-commerce intelligence solution, Via, which monitors millions of products daily. The result showed that the categories with the highest number of products with quinoa are breakfast cereals (21% of the total), sweet biscuits (20%), baked goods (18%), salty snacks (14%), snack bars (7%) while other categories make up the remaining 21%.

Setting the scene

In terms of packaged food companies, both market leaders and new ventures have begun to participate in this trend. In breakfast cereals, for example, Kellogg’s in Colombia offers granola with chia, flaxseed, and blueberries. In Chile, Quaker (PepsiCo) presents oatmeal with flaxseed, sesame, and chia, Vivo (Carozzi) offers oatmeal with seeds and quinoa, while Tika has launched a breakfast cereal with quinoa and chia.

In the case of snacks, there are good examples of the Permissible Indulgence (see below) trend. In Chile, Carozzi launched chocolate and vanilla filled biscuits with quinoa, chia, and oats. In Argentina, Havanna launched a line of alfajores containing several seeds including chia, sesame, and quinoa.

Meat substitutes have grown significantly in the last year. In Chile, at the end of 2019, Agrosuper launched quinoa burgers with flaxseed and chia, while Nestlé launched four different shelf-stable meat substitutes to prepare vegetarian quinoa burgers.

Quinoa is growing not only as an ingredient now integrated into packaged food but also as a product itself, to be consumed as a replacement for rice or as an ingredient for salads, soups, or stews. In Chilean supermarkets, there are various types of quinoa (white, red, black) both from renowned packaged food brands such as Carozzi, Vivo, and Banquete and from private label brands such as Tottus.

How global consumer trends favour the consumption of ancient grains?

Functional Food: With the arrival of Coronavirus (COVID-19), health has become a major priority for consumers. People are searching for food with preventative health benefits, such as immune system boosting. Ancient grains are increasingly sought after for their health benefits, including their high content of protein, fibre, calcium, iron, vitamins, and their gluten-free nature.

Back to Local: Consumers are looking for locally-sourced foods that they trust and which support local economies, especially in the difficult economic context of the pandemic. The production of quinoa is high in South American countries and is a good example of this trend for the region.

Returning to Roots: This trend consists of the search for traditional foods that connect consumers with their past and sense of identity. Ancient grains are a good example of this trend since they are grown as they were centuries ago in Latin America. This was reinforced by the arrival of COVID-19, with people having nostalgia for less complicated times.

Permissible Indulgence: A growing number of consumers seek to balance indulgence with health in their food consumption. In 2020, many consumers in Latin America have had to stay at home for a very long time. This has caused stress, anxiety, and anguish. They have sought to indulge themselves for comfort, and the possibility of doing this with foods that have a healthier touch, such as chocolate with ancient grains, may reduce the feeling of guilt.

Plant-Based Eating: As with the rest of the world, in Latin America, many consumers are seeking to limit their consumption of meat due to concerns about personal health, environmental impact, and animal welfare. For this reason, meat substitutes are showing high growth rates in the region.

Another factor that is driving the growth of ancient grains and seeds is the contagion effect. As new products and categories incorporate these elements, more consumers try these products and recommend them. Higher consumption attracts new suppliers, increasing competition and lowering prices, which increases consumption again.

Challenges

On the supply side, several companies in Latin America are already taking advantage of the opportunities offered by ancient grains and seeds, with products available in many categories.

On the demand side, one of the challenges is to reduce the price of products to make them accessible to most of the population, especially given the prospect of widespread recession following COVID-19. This may be achieved by increasing production, which is happening across the world with quinoa, for example, produced already in more than 120 countries. Another challenge is to increase consumer awareness regarding the benefits of ancient grains and seeds in terms of personal health and environmental impact.

If the industry overcomes these two challenges, ancient grains and seeds could become mainstream across Latin America.