Sea vegetables, such as kelp, seaweed and spirulina, are trending in the restaurant industry and offering opportunities in other product applications, such as snack lines, as well, according to Food Ingredients First.
Innova Market Insights trend forecast for 2018 highlighted “Ocean Garden” as a key trend, spurring innovation in new product development. Innova reports a 21% growth in food and beverage launches featuring these products.
Even chefs are bullish on the emergence of sea greens. Harvard food expert and chef Barton Seaver said in an interview with Maine Public Radio that “kelp is the new kale,” adding that it will be everywhere in the next decade.
Bon Appétit named 2012 “the year of kale.” Kale can now be found everywhere, from Walmart and McDonald’s to fine dining establishments. Now, the search is on for the next big, trendy ingredient.
Could that just be kelp or seaweed? These “ocean garden” varieties certainly have the attributes to be the new kale. They’re nutritious, uniquely flavored and versatile.
And, like kale, they have the potential to incite a sea change in the food industry, both through innovation (seaweed snacks are already available at every major retailer) and production.
Sea vegetables are well positioned as consumers increasingly try plant-based products. Shoppers also are chasing superfoods, and algae and seaweed both fall within that category. Consumers also are more conscious of environmental stewardship when it comes to their food. According to an EU report, around 90% of the world’s fish stocks are seriously depleted. It suggested looking at how we can harvest other species, including sea greens.
These realities have incited growth in food and beverage launches featuring products such as algae, dulse, kelp, kombu, Irish moss, sea vegetable and seaweed, according to Food Ingredients First. The seaweed market, for example, is expected to reach more than $22 billion by 2024, from about $10 billion in 2015.
The challenge will be to keep pace with the demand, not only from the food space but other industries, too. Algae also found in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and animal feed.
Another potential challenge is getting American consumers past the “ick” factor when it comes to products like kelp or algae. Still, there are already a number of kelp-based snack products on the market, many of which come in familiar forms, such as kelp chips and algae wafers. The fact that the ingredient is hitting the market in recognizable applications could speed up consumer acceptance of kelp.
In addition, some of these products, such as seaweed, have long been a staple in Asian cuisine, which bodes well for them as food becomes more globalized.
Kale had some unusual marketing moxie behind its swift emergence, and ocean vegetables have a long way to go before they reach that kind of ubiquity. But as consumers are increasingly exposed to new foods and educated about their benefits, their tastes will become more sophisticated and receptive. If the comparatively flavorless kale can make it, maybe kelp can, too.