Most consumers in an Ardent Mills’ survey expressed interest in buying an item containing ancient grains, and nearly 90% said they wanted to know more about ancient grains. Denver-based Ardent Mills contacted 1,001 US consumers of the ages 18 or older online Aug. 19-23.

The survey found 63% of respondents said they either were very familiar with ancient grains or had heard of them. Sixty-one percent said they definitely or probably would purchase an item with ancient grains from a grocer. The percentages were higher for consumers of the ages 18 to 34 at 65% and 35 to 52 at 64%. While 85% said they were interested in the nutritional benefits of ancient grains, 82% said they were interested in functional benefits.

“Consumers, as savvy as they are becoming and as resources become available to them and they use (the resources) more often, there is still a little bit of gap in their understanding,” says Matthew Schueller, director of marketing insights and analytics for Ardent Mills. “It doesn’t undermine their appreciation, but one of the things that kind of caught me by surprise was not what consumers didn’t know but what they do know. That was specifically within the questions we asked about nutritional values.”

Quinoa remains the most popular ancient grain. While 86% of respondents said they were familiar with quinoa, 40% said they were very familiar. Consumers of the ages 35 to 54 had the highest familiarity of quinoa at 91%.

“When it first came into the marketplace, it had a lot of stickiness and a lot of traction because consumers struggled with how to pronounce it,” Schueller says. “I think in some way it made it sort of sticky to the point where it gave the grain an opportunity to stay on the radar of consumers until they were able to experience it.”

He says food manufacturers are finding how versatile quinoa is as quinoa flour sees more frequent use in baked foods.

Schueller mentioned buckwheat, sorghum and millet as ancient grains emerging in the marketplace.

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they were familiar with buckwheat with 27% saying they were very familiar.

“Buckwheat has relatively solid awareness among consumers, and I think they realize that they come across buckwheat in a number of different formats in the marketplace,” Schueller says.

For sorghum, 54% said they were familiar with the grain, and 10% said they were very familiar.

“Consumers probably lack a little bit of awareness and understanding of sorghum relative to how often they end up eating it,” Schueller says.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they had heard of millet with 13% saying they were very familiar with it.

“I think that is one that probably is poised here in the very near future to see some increased attention and adoption, both from the manufacturing side and also the consumer side,” Schueller says of millet.

Consumers were less familiar with white Sonora (15% familiar and 2% very familiar) and teff (13% familiar and 2% very familiar).

The terms ancient, heirloom and heritage grains (ancient grains) are used interchangeably by consumers and marketers to describe minor cereal grains and pseudo cereal grains that have not been adopted into American staple diets such as wheat, rice or corn, according to Ardent Mills.  There is no scientific definition or regulatory standard for ancient grains. Historically, they were consumed by Indigenous peoples and have gained popularity in local food movements due to perceived improved nutritional and flavor profiles, according to Ardent Mills