The world is suddenly turning to pulses as a great super food alternative.
The international market is flooding with product launches featuring pulses — a food category that essentially includes beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas—as a key ingredient.
As more and more people are turning to gluten-free high protein options, pulses are seemingly the obvious choice.
Chickpeas are appearing in the snack aisle, black beans are in pastas and peas are a featured ingredient in substitutes for milk and meat. Pulses have indeed become a modern food marketer’s dream. They’re plant-based, and obviously a great source of protein and naturally gluten-free.
More than 2,500 new food products touted pulses, a category that refers to beans and other dry-harvested legumes including chickpeas, lentils and peas, in 2017.
That marks an 11% increase from 2016, according to Innova Market Insights, which tracks new foods. At the same time, products containing kale declined 15% and “ancient grains” like quinoa dipped 7%.
More than ever, food companies roll out waves of trendy ingredients to compete with one another. As labels, sourcing claims and dietary restrictions make eating more complicated, industry executives say, consumers want simplicity. An old-fashioned ingredient offers something easy to latch onto.
Love Grown Foods, which makes cereals including Comet Crispies and Sea Stars, puts “Beans for Breakfast!” on boxes. Saffron Road chips made of chickpeas, lentils and peas claim to be “powered by plant protein.” Hippeas chickpea puffs ask consumers to “give peas a chance.”
The rise in popularity of hummus, made largely from chickpeas, may have led the way for the pulse revolution. “Chickpeas were the gateway,” says Tim McGreevy, chief executive of the American Pulse Association, which represents growers and processors of beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.
Planted acres of chickpeas alone nearly doubled in 2017 in the U.S. from a year earlier, he says. Roasted chickpeas are now a mainstay of the snack aisle. Chief executives at brands including The Good Bean and Biena Snacks, whose roasted chickpeas come in familiar flavors such as honey roasted and sour cream and onion, say sales have at least doubled in the past year.
Snack giants like Frito-Lay are paying close attention. Last year, it tested a new line of chips called Off the Eaten Path—featuring ingredients such as peas, black beans and chickpeas. It is now broadening the snack lineup to include more varieties—including roasted chickpeas—and expanding distribution.
“People are looking for more out of their snacks than they have in the past,” said Tyler Chapman, senior vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, a unit of PepsiCo. He believes beans are more than a flash in the pan. “You can build pipelines of products using it as a base.”
Some food brands, such as Banza pasta, are using chickpeas to create product lines that are gluten-free, grain-free and vegan. Just don’t call it that.
“It doesn’t say ‘gluten-free’ deliberately,” said Brian Rudolph, Banza’s co-founder. Instead, his line of rotinis, pennes and angel hair pastas tout “made from chickpeas” in bold letters on the front of boxes.
“We like focusing on the positives,” he added.