Seaweed on track to become Europe’s next big superfood trend
Seaweed has become much more of a mainstream product in European diets in the last five years. While this success owes much to the marine algae’s use in popular Asian cuisine like sushi and miso soup, new research from international market intelligence agency Mintel finds that new seaweed product innovation in Europe is at a record level and also suggests that its health benefits are moving it quickly toward superfood status, alongside the likes of goji berries, wheatgrass and green tea.
According to Mintel, Europe’s food and drink product launches that comprise seaweed flavors, including kombu, nori/laver and wakame increased by 147 percent between 2011 and 2015. This growth means the bloc is now the second most innovative region globally when it comes to seaweed-flavored food and drink launches.
While the majority of seaweed products are launched in the Asia Pacific region, which accounted for 88 percent of global product launches between 2011 and 2015, Europe released seven percent of the total in this period, outpacing both North America and Latin America, with four percent and one percent, respectively.
“Seaweed has been a famous delicacy in many Asian countries for centuries, celebrated for its flavor and nourishing powers. While still somewhat niche in Europe, we believe that seaweed could become the next superfood. Due to its abundance in natural vitamins, minerals, and plant-based protein, seaweed speaks to the growing quest for naturally functional foods and alternative protein sources in the West,” said Stephanie Mattucci, global food science analyst at Mintel.
Its study finds that 58 percent of German consumers and 44 percent of their U.K. counterparts have either tried or would like to try algae as a protein source. Furthermore, 36 percent of U.K. consumers who use herbs, spices or seasonings agree that ground, dried seaweed would be a good alternative to salt for flavoring meals or dishes.
With regard to salt consumption, 32 percent of German, 42 percent of Spanish, 46 percent of French, 48 percent of Italian and 57 percent of Polish consumers say they are actively reducing their overall consumption of salty foods or avoiding them altogether.
Seaweed is not only a natural way to substitute salt, but also exhibits antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties which may lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, or aid in digestion and weight management, said Mattucci.
Mintel believes seaweed’s “health halo” presents a big opportunity for manufacturers in the West, especially in the snack category, and adds that 30 percent of consumers in Italy, Poland (36 percent) and Spain (37 percent) would like to see a wider variety of healthier snacks.
Consumer demand is mirrored in recent launch activity – 37 percent of seaweed-flavored food and drink launches in Europe between 2011 and 2015 took place in the snack category, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database. Other top categories for new product development in Europe include sauces and seasonings (12 percent), bakery (nine percent) and soup (eight percent).
But while the inherent health benefits in seaweed allow it to fit naturally into the healthy snack category, Mintel’s research also showed it’s important these products are tasty, as the majority of European snack consumers agree that taste is king. Indeed, 56 percent of Italian, 57 percent of Spanish, 62 percent of French, 65 percent of Polish and 70 percent of German consumers agreed that flavor is more important than calorie content when indulging in a snack.