- Ingredion has entered into an exclusive agreement with Northern Quinoa Production Corporation — known as NorQuin — to globally market and distribute the Canadian company’s non-GMO quinoa flours, according to a release from the company.
- There were no financial details disclosed, but the agreement includes an option for Ingredion to make a future equity investment in NorQuin.
- Quinoa flour will complement the company’s existing pulse flour portfolio and can be used in snacks, crackers, baked goods, as well as dairy and meat alternatives. “We are excited to enter into an agreement with NorQuin to further expand our specialties portfolio with quinoa flours and capitalize on the plant-based protein trend shaping the global food industry,” said Jim Zallie, Ingredion’s president and CEO.
Ingredion has a reputation for acquiring smaller companies that can bring new expertise and give the larger company a foothold in developing trends. With the ingredient company’s history in mind, this global distribution agreement with the option for a future investment indicates Ingredion is placing its bets on ancient grains.
Ancient grains started to see substantial growth between 2015 and 2016 when the market jumped up 11.6%, according to Innova Market Insights. And that growth is forecast to continue. Industry Arc predicts that the ancient grains market will surpass $2.56 billion by 2023, growing at an annual rate of 36.6% from 2018 to 2023.
This growth is unsurprising since quinoa hits consumers' sweet spot in several nutritional respects. Not only is it a gluten-free alternative to other traditional grains, but quinoa is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids as well as fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins and iron. Although quinoa is a seed, it is typically prepared as a grain, making the ingredient much more accessible to consumers searching for high-protein, plant-based alternatives.
Commercially, quinoa has found its way into bakery items including cereals, breads and crackers. It has also started to move into other categories including snacks, dairy alternative products and whiskey. Quinoa appeared in 44% of all U.S. product launches containing ancient grains in 2017, according to statistics from Innova Market Insights.
Ingredion likely began with a distribution agreement in order to test out the longevity of the quinoa market. However, with food allergies on the rise in the U.S., it is unlikely that a plant-based, protein-rich, gluten-free ingredient will fall out of fashion. Additionally, the ancient grain does not have some of the issues associated with other plant-based protein sources like pea protein, for which there has been concerns about production sustainability.
Nor does it appear Ingredion believes that this partnership will quickly dissolve since the company is looking to continue investing in pulse and alternative grain flours. In 2018, Ingredion invested $140 million in manufacturing facilities in Nebraska and Saskatchewan to produce protein isolates from peas and other pulse-based flours and concentrates. In its 2019 annual report, the company noted it is looking to invest $185 million in “plant-based protein product lines, including pulse-based concentrates, flours and isolates” in 2020.
Already the company has been fulfilling that promise. In January, Ingredion launched its first pea protein isolate in the pulse protein line, Vitessence Pulse 1803.
Other companies are also investing in quinoa. Ardent Mills — an independent joint venture between Conagra, Cargill and CHS to introduce flour and grain innovations to the marketplace — recently acquired Andean Naturals' quinoa operations that source, clean and package the grain. Swebol Biotech, the food technology firm behind the Oatly brand, recently announced the development of a quinoa-based milk called Quiny.
However, quinoa is only one piece of innovation at Ingredion. In 2018, Ingredion boosted spending by 14% — to $349 million — to move more into plant-based protein and sugar reduction innovations. Recently, the company has continued to increase its stake in this segment. In April, Ingredion agreed to purchase a 75% controlling stake in stevia pioneer PureCircle. One month later, Ingredion launched Erysta, the company’s new sweetener made from an erythritol polyol.
If Ingredion continues investing in these two categories, it will put itself in a prime spot to reap the rewards of these segments’ growing popularity.