Natural Products Expo West

Will hemp seeds sprout into the next big super seed?

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Image Credit: Getty Images: Diana Miller
Image Credit: Getty Images: Diana Miller

Related tags hemp seeds Expo west natural food

Nutrient dense and versitile hemp seeds might be the next ingredient to shake up the super seed space, long-dominated by chia and flax, according to a panel of experts and trendspotters at Natural Products Expo West last week.

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill​, hemp production was legalized in the US, allowing the use hemp seed as a product and a food ingredient, Jared Simon, president of food ingredient company Hemp Oil Canada, shared during the presentation. And unlike the leaves and flowers of the hemp plant, "no real cannabinoid can be found in the [hemp] seed,​" Ali Connell, VP of sales for Hemp Oil Canada said.

While it doesn't have the popularity of its super seed peers, “hemp really is a rock star amongst the super seeds​” for its nutrient-dense content, Connell said. In terms of protein, hemp seeds have “double the protein of flax and chia,​” Connell said. A 30g serving of hemp seeds contains roughly 10g of proteins, while flax has around 5g of protein and chia about 4g per the same serving size, she added. Additionally, hemp seeds contain 12g of Omegas 3 and 6, including gamma linoleic acid (GLA).

Hemp seeds lags behind other super seed, but have opportunity to expand

Hemp seeds are currently lagging behind its super seed competitors both in terms of sales as a standalone product and in hemp-based products, according to Scott Dicker, market insights director at SPINS.

Shelf-stable hemp seeds accounted for $18m in sales for the 52 weeks, ending Jan. 29, 2023, compared to flax seeds at $26m, chia seeds at $34m, and $387m sunflower seeds for the same period, Dicker said. However, hemp seed has “a lot of opportunity for expansion​” due in part to its nutrition profile, Dicker added.

But not only are consumers mixing hemp seeds into their cereals or sprinkling them into their salads, but many CPG brands have also begun to use them in a range of products from creams and creamers, hot cereals, juices, candy, bread and baked goods, and frozen entries, Dicker said.

The overall hemp seed product market totaled $216m for the 52 weeks ending January 29, 2023. Among the highest sales categories, hemp juices were worth $42.4m, $11.4m for the breaded and baked goods category, and $6.5m for hot cereals for the same period. On the lower end of sales were frozen entrees at $5.3m, candy at $4.1m, and creams and creamers at $3.5m. However, the category with the lowest sales (creams and creamers) was the highest growth category, growing 129.6% year-over-year.

"Hemp seed is something that really ... grew up in the supplement channel, even though it is a food. But you [usually see] what's popular in supplements making its way into food and beverage easily through the functional beverage space first.​"

Delivering on specific diets

Beyond its nutrition content, it also fits into many trending diets, including vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, Whole30, and FODMAP, Dicker explained. In terms of growth within these specific diets, SPINS found that hemp products with Whole30 claims grew 5.5% year-over-year, 5.3% for Paleo, 4.7% for FODMAP, 1.6% for vegetarian, and 0.6% for vegan, for the 52 weeks, ending Jan. 29, 2023.

While vegan was the lowest growth for the last year, its growth for the last two years was higher than any of the other diets at 34.4%, Dicker noted. In comparison, Paleo grew by 11.9%, FODMAP by 11.2%, vegetarian by 9.0%, and Whole30 by 8.5% for the same two-year period, according to SPINS data for the same two-year period.

Hemp seeds have a wellness moment with Gen Z, millennials

Hemp seed provides an opportunity to meet the health and sustainability demands of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, Simon said.

"One of the things that we're seeing is that the relationship that Gen Z has with food is a little different than past cohorts. I think for them health is not just about physical health. It's about holistic health,​" Simon said. "It's about physical wellness and mental wellness and looking towards food to help … address some of those challenges that they may have in their lives.​”

For one, “54% of consumers are saying that they're changing their diet to help manage their stress,​” according to an IFIC 2021 Food and Health survey, Simon said. “People are looking for many different pathways to deal with [stress], and food is one of those important places,​” he added. 

Additionally, younger consumers are looking for food and beverage products that also come from sustainable sources and do good for the planet, Simon explained. Hemp is typically “used as a rotational crop with most producers,​" which provides nutrition to the soil, Connell said. Additionally, the plant is good for carbon sequestration, as the “long taproot [of hemp] helps keep … the carbon in the soil,​” Simon said. 

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