Ancient grain products and ingredients are growing at a rapid pace. As a whole, they are perceived as healthier, trendier, more sustainable, and have a unique history attached to each grain. Ancient grains are loosely considered, though not strictly defined, to be grains or seeds that have not been modified by science. They can also be classified as whole grains because the bulk are very minimally processed and therefore contain more nutrients in their whole form. Used in cereals, cooked in pasta, used in salads, baked in to breads and crackers, or crusted on a protein, whole grains display a unique versatility in the kitchen. A growing market backed by consumers willing to pay a premium for products with an ancient grains label has created profitable opportunities for companies looking to include them in their products.
Historically, ancient grains have grown steadily along with whole grains since 2000, with brief periods of explosive growth between 2010 and 2015, and a continued pattern of steady, predictable growth up until 2015. Looking back, J. Popp of Aunt Millies Bakeries reports “In 2001, we generated 2% of our business from whole grains. Today, 38% of the bread and rolls we sell contain at least some whole grain flour.” Flowers Foods, Inc reported sales between 2007 and 2012 have risen 75% in the whole grain category, and that their whole wheat Natures Own brand of bread has been a top seller for decades.. Sara Lee estimates that from 2005 to 2010, whole grain product sales nearly doubled from 24% to 45%, representing a jump in total share of the category from 15% to 27%. Nielsen home data dating back to 2001 showed a 20% increase in per pound sales of whole wheat products by 2007. In terms of consumer preference, a report from 2009 states that 81% of consumers are trying to consume more whole grains, and 67% are consuming less refined grains, over a 10% jump in 4 years. Furthermore, an interest in exotic and different tastes is driving consumers to seek out more innovative products, a trend that has been growing in momentum since ethnic food begin its upswing in the early 2000’s.
On top of all the data showing a steady history of growth leading in to todays continued expansion, government agencies are picking up on the reliability and versatility of ancient grains. The leading grain in the early 2000’s was quinoa, and an article from the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, the latent characteristics of quinoa (which are mostly shared by amaranth, teff, sorghum, kaniwa, and others) have led to quinoa being considered a possible crop for NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied spaceflights. The FDA has also repeatedly touted quinoa and ancient grains as important crops for future food security and supply because of their ability to grow well in harsh and far from ideal climates.