Cereal grasses are more popular with consumers than ever. Here are five market trends to keep your eye on, including new product formats, flavors, and more.
Grass ingredients, grass-based supplements, and green superfoods have been around for several decades, but have evolved to meet changing consumer demands. Supplements derived from cereal grasses are now seeing significant category growth, driven primarily by preventive health behaviors on the part of consumers as more and more Americans trend toward grass products for an added boost of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and functional benefits.
Now, supply is rising to meet demand. Data supplied to Nutritional Outlook by Innova Market Insights indicates that grass products are becoming increasingly popular as supplements, with grass-based ingredients featuring prominently in newly launched products. Barley grass (Hordeum vulgare) in particular is a rapidly growing ingredient for new grass products, with the number of new product launches incorporating barley grass as an ingredient rising by 41% between 2012 and 2016. Innova says that barley grass achieved 78% market penetration in 2017, while other grass ingredients like alfalfa grass (Medicago sativa), wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum), and oat grass (Avena sativa) also saw increases in both consumer and brand adoption alike.
Grass products are evolving, and innovative new brands are capitalizing on market demand to bring unique products to market. Here are just a few of the ways the grass market is changing.
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New Products and Formats
Grass-based ingredients are increasingly being used in a greater variety and diversity of product formats and formulations, with ingredient suppliers like NP Nutra saying that grass products are gaining popularity among millennials, baby boomers, and active seniors.
“Grass products are very popular with the market, and the formats and formulations are evolving according to consumer trends and demands,” says NP Nutra Director of Marketing Margaret Gomes (Gardena, CA). “Busy, modern consumer lives are driving the market toward convenient nutritional products that serve as filling snacks rather than sit-down meals.”
Gomes says that grass ingredients are now being used in a variety of products like gels, chews, bars, smoothies, effervescent tablets, and juice blends. These to-go formats, Gomes says, are popular due to their ease of use-but innovating inevitably presents formulation challenges: “The main issues with any formulation are flavor and texture; it’s not sufficient for a product to be healthy, it has to taste good and have a good mouthfeel.”
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Product Flavoring Options: Chocolate, Vanilla, and Pineapple Lead the Way
Flavor and texture concerns have led manufacturers to start experimenting with flavoring options for grass products and grass blends. Gomes says that grass blends often incorporate superfruits, turmeric (Curcuma longa), and baobab (Adansonia digitata) in order to provide additional nutritional benefits and introduce a flavor contrast. But brands are also turning to other natural flavoring ingredients like lemon (Citrus limon), vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), chocolate, and red apples (Malus pumila) to give grass products a flavor that consumers enjoy.
Data from Innova Market Insights suggests that chocolate remains the dominant flavor for grass products, with 12% of all new grass product launches in 2017 incorporating chocolate as a flavoring agent. Vanilla has also seen some growth as a flavoring agent, with 8.8% share (up from 6.6% in 2012).
Innova’s data also indicates, however, that pineapple (Ananas comosus) is emerging as a leading new flavoring ingredient. Says the Innova team: “From zero products tracked in 2012, pineapple flavor emerges and becomes the third-largest flavor in grass product launches tracked in 2017.”
Drew Pawlan, sales and marketing associate for ALO Drink/ SPI West Port Inc. (San Francisco, CA), says that mainstream consumers respond better to familiar flavors, which is why expanding flavor options is useful for reaching beyond the core demographic of grass product users: “Consumers might at first be hesitant to drink a beverage they’ve never had before, so using relatable flavors drives trials.”
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Health Claims Are Key
Within the grass supplement space, products are gravitating around specific value propositions and health claims.
Innova says that the most common positioning statements around grass products involve claims of organic origin and vegan ingredients, with 24.9% of products launched in 2017 claiming to be organic and 20.4% of products launched in 2017 claiming to be vegan. This is a significant increase from positioning claims in 2012, where only 9%-10% of product launches involved organic and vegan claims.
Innova reports that the most common health claim for these kinds of products is now energy and stamina. 34% of grass products launched in 2017 prominently featured energy and stamina claims-up from 18% in 2012. Energy and stamina has replaced digestive and liver health as the primary health claim. Liver health and immune health are now the second most common health claims in the grass products space, with 33% of products making these claims.
Pawlan says that educating consumers on the functional benefits of grass products and grass ingredients will be key to growing the niche: “In the beverage industry, we’ve seen an explosion of functional attributes coming to market over the last few years. Over time, we can expect to see continuous growth in the grass industry and increased integration of grass ingredients into even more product categories.”
Pawlan also notes that as families and individuals become more health conscious, the market trends toward natural solutions for wellness concerns.
“Grass-based products are perfectly positioned to take advantage of this trend,” he says. “We’ve found that consumers looking for natural remedies are flocking to grass- and plant-based products. Aloe vera juice, for example, has been a popular supplement for gastrointestinal support and digestive health for many decades.”
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Kale and Spinach Still Top Ingredients
Innova notes that spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is still the most-used ingredient in grass product launches, with 68.5% of tracked grass products using spinach as an ingredient in 2017. Other popular ingredients include spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) and broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica), present in 61.9% and 61.3% of all products launched, respectively.
Kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica) is also maintaining its popularity, with Innova’s data showing a 44.4% increase in its use. Kale was an ingredient in 39.2% of all grass product launches in 2017, up from 27.9% in 2012.
There are also several ingredients gaining in adoption that haven’t traditionally been popular components of grass product formulations. Innova reports that carrot (Daucus carota) shows the fastest average annual growth of any grass product ingredient, at 55.8% in 2017 (up from 31.1% in 2012, a 48% increase).
Other ingredients that are seeing significant growth in grass products include cherry (Prunus avium) and apple. The number of grass products using cherry as an ingredient increased by 45.6% between 2012 and 2017, while apple doubled in popularity from 20.5% to 40.9%.
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Gomes says that the grass supplements market is facing challenges much like those that other ingredients markets are facing: “All ingredients markets are struggling with sustainability and traceability, which is a major item on the agenda for suppliers, manufacturers, and consumers. When sourcing ingredients, we’ve found that many products aren’t what they seem; verification retesting has shown the presence of pesticides and GMOs in supposedly organic products.”
Gomes says that NP Nutra is navigating this challenge with the introduction of its new Triple-T Verification Program, which involves audits of partner facilities to verify purity and traceability at the source.
Pawlan adds that programs like the Non-GMO Project are essential to ensuring transparency. “Consumers increasingly demand assurance that they are getting only the best ingredients,” he says, “so programs like the Non-GMO Project Verified certification-as well as more detailed transparency in the sourcing of grass products-will become the norm.”
Gomes also notes that grass product manufacturers are continually working to develop innovative new blends that include various special ingredients like baobab and adaptogens, which means brands will need to experiment to determine which blends and product formats offer the best flavor, texture, and aroma. “The most recent innovations are in the delivery formats and the quality of processing, which ensures maximum nutrient availability,” he says.
The next major opportunities in the grass supplement space, Gomes says, will be in developing high-quality product blends that are easily traced back to the source. Grass products companies can best position themselves for future growth with a combination of creativity in product formulations and formats, supply chain and manufacturing process transparency, and improvements in flavor and texture.
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