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CHICAGO — Seaweed is less common as a food or snack product outside the Asia Pacific region, but seaweed-flavored food and drink is on the rise in the West, and may be the next superfood trend, according to new research by Mintel.
The percentage of product launches with seaweed flavors, such as kombu, nori/laber and wakame seaweed, increased by 76 percent in North America since 2011 and an even more impressive 147 percent in Europe. This growth makes Europe and North America respectively the second and third most innovative regions globally when it comes to seaweed-flavored food and drink launches, Mintel found.
"Seaweed has been a famous delicacy in many Asian countries for centuries, celebrated for its flavor and nourishing powers. While still somewhat niche in North America and Europe, we believe that seaweed could become the next superfood," said Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst at Mintel. "Due to its abundance of natural vitamins, minerals and plant-based protein, seaweed speaks to the growing quest for naturally functional foods and alternative protein sources in the West."
The health benefits of seaweed are among its attributes that most appeal to Americans, as 46 percent of U.S. consumers have either tried or would like to try algae as a protein source. Similar sentiment was expressed in Germany (58 percent) and the United Kingdom (44 percent).
Seaweed's health halo presents a big opportunity for manufacturers in the West, particularly in the snack category, Mintel reported. Thirty percent of U.S. snacking consumers agree they snacked on healthier foods more in 2015 compared to the previous year. Additionally, 60 percent of these consumers wish there were more healthy snack options, while 67 percent of Canadian salty snack buyers say there are more healthier salty snack options than there used to be. This fits with European consumers' preferences for healthier options, as 30 percent of consumers in Italy, 36 percent of consumers in Poland and 37 percent of consumers in Spain want to see a wider variety of healthier snacks.
Mintel's Global New Products Database shows that consumer demand is mirrored in product launch activity, as 85 percent of seaweed-flavored food and drink launches in North America between 2011 and 2015 occurred in the snack category, above Europe's 37 percent.
Despite the desire for healthier snacks, Mintel also found that it is important to consumers that these products taste good. More than half (51 percent) of U.S. consumers who eat snacks and 56 percent of Canadian consumers who buy salty snacks agree that taste is more important than health benefits. This opinion is even more strongly held in Europe, where 56 percent of Italian, 57 percent of Spanish, 62 percent of French, 65 percent of Polish and 70 percent of German consumers agree that flavor is more important than calorie content.
"The inherent health benefits in seaweed allow it to fit naturally into the healthy snack category. But even though consumers' interest in health-enhancing food continues to increase, seaweed snacks will need to deliver on flavor in order to be successful with Western consumers," Mattucci said.