Chickpeas Are Popping Up in the Dairy, Snacking, and Baking Aisles — Here’s Why
Make it taste good. Give it the perfect texture. And did we mention it had better be gluten-free, too?
It’s a familiar call-and-refrain for savvy CPG manufacturers and emerging food brands that want to develop “the next big thing” for consumers. Loads of pressure and high expectations for food that’s tasty, well-textured, and punching above its weight in nutritional benefits.
Fortunately, one ingredient packs all the power of a legume into a small, versatile package: the chickpea.
Chickpeas—the dry, edible seed of plants from the legume family—are rising up to play a powerful role in food manufacturing. This plant-based source of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein is experiencing a surge in popularity among nutrition-aware consumers, and it’s incredibly versatile throughout the manufacturing process.
“Retail products inclusive of chickpeas grew 80% in sales between 2019 and 2020,1 but the number of SKUs in retail, including chickpeas, only increased 12% in that time,2” said Shrene White, General Manager—Emerging Nutrition, Ardent Mills. “From pet food to dairy to snacks, it’s clear consumers have an affinity for chickpeas and manufacturers like to work with this nutritious, flexible ingredient.”
Whether featured as a standalone product, included as an ingredient in emerging products, or highlighted in food service menus, the chickpea is poised to win over consumer taste buds. Here are three reasons to use the chickpea as your secret weapon in product development.
Neutral texture, favorable nutrition profile
The chickpea’s advantage is that it combines a neutral texture with a favorable nutrition profile. From a nutrition perspective, chickpeas are rich in folate,3 and according to the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, chickpeas have 2 ½ times more iron than chicken and 3 times more folate than kale.4
Best of all, these nutritional benefits come wrapped in a beany taste and rich texture, which allows manufacturers to create foods that appeal to consumers while also delivering the nutritional benefits that chickpeas have to offer.
Here are just a few ways the nutritional profile of the chickpea appeals to strong consumer desires around diet and lifestyle today:
- Fiber: About 70% of U.S. consumers currently eat or would be interested in eating foods that offer increased fiber,5 and the Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC) for whole chickpeas is 35g, providing 15% daily value per RACC of fiber.6,7 In addition, a whopping 95% of U.S. consumers do not get enough fiber.8
- Protein: Among U.S. consumers, 38% report trying to consume protein from plant sources9 and 52% are trying to eat more plant-based foods10; FDA RACC (serving size) for whole chickpeas is 35g and provides 7g of protein.
- Gluten-Free: According to research from Ardent Mills, 44% of consumers claim to purposefully eat gluten-free at least occasionally, and chickpeas are an inherently gluten-free food.11
- Sustainable: As much as 87% of consumers agree they are trying to buy or consume more foods that are sustainably processed,12 and pulses may help to support a diverse farm system by enriching soil health – leaving behind nutrients (including nitrogen and beneficial microbes) for the next crop.13
“Consumers are seeking out food products that not only nourish their bodies but actively contribute toward a better food system and practice,”15,16 said Shrene White, General Manager—Emerging Nutrition, Ardent Mills. “Getting nutrition from chickpeas empowers consumers to match their well-being with their well-doing—the resulting combination is a real win for CPG brands and manufacturers.”
Exceptionally adaptable and versatile
With a nutty, pleasing flavor profile and rich, creamy texture, chickpeas offer a nutritious backdrop for a wide variety of products, from Siete Foods’ chickpea flour tortillas to The Good Bean’s chocolate-covered chickpeas.17
The adaptability and versatility of the pulse itself is what enables manufacturers to use chickpeas as the base ingredient for surprising combinations such as:
- Bakery flour for savory or sweet items (adds nutrition, color, flavor, and functionality to baked goods)
- Ready-made meals and sides (e.g., pasta, frozen pizza)
- Dairy substitutes (e.g., plant-forward alternatives)
- Primary ingredient for snacking mixes (e.g., chips and puffs)
- Sauces and seasonings (e.g., vegan mayonnaise)
- Popular diets such as Mediterranean and keto
- Protein source and meat alternative
“There’s no shortage of consumer demand for snack products that taste amazing and are filling,” said Shrene White, General Manager—Emerging Nutrition, Ardent Mills. “It’s no surprise that the intact and flour market for chickpeas is projected to increase by $5.7 billion from 2021 to 2026.19 I think the more consumers see chickpeas in their favorite snacks and products, the more they will recognize the benefits of keeping this food in their regular rotation.”
A traditional, familiar consumer favorite
Penetrating a market with a new or unfamiliar ingredient to consumers can be a challenge. But chickpeas have a long and foundational history in food across cultures.
Consumer familiarity with the chickpea—and positive associations with it—allow food manufacturers to move forward with an audience more open and welcoming when it comes to introducing new products. Just consider that ⅓ of U.S. consumers claim to eat chickpeas within their daily diet with some frequency, and ¼ of those consumers claim they’ll eat chickpeas more often in the coming year.20
Here’s a look at the presence and performance of chickpeas in the market today, highlighting a growth trajectory across all uses of the pulse:
“Manufacturers that start with chickpeas aren’t starting from scratch,” said Shrene White. “Chickpeas are already cemented in our food culture, which means customers will delight in seeing an old favorite repurposed into creative, new adaptations with the added nutritional benefits of chickpeas.”
Get ahead of the next explosive consumer trend
Embracing the chickpea in product development is a win-win for CPG manufacturers and consumers, marrying taste, texture, and nutritional value in a creative package. But the chickpea space is rapidly becoming more competitive, with retail manufacturers having launched more than 1,000 new products that include chickpeas in the past 18 months.22 If you want to meet the consumer demand for plant-based nutrition that is a good source of fiber, it’s time to consider how to incorporate chickpeas into your plans.
Ready to learn more about chickpeas? Visit our Chickpea Hub, fill out our contact form and we’ll be in touch!
1Ardent Mills proprietary research
2Ardent Mills proprietary research
3“Chickpeas, mature seeds, raw,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed October 5, 2022, https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173756/nutrients.
4“Nutritious,” USA Pulses, accessed October 5, 2022, https://www.usapulses.org/consumers/nutritious.
5Ardent Mills proprietary research
6“Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed,” Food and Drug Administration, February 2018, https://www.fda.gov/media/102587/download.
7“Chickpeas, mature seeds, raw,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, accessed October 5, 2022, https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173756/nutrients.
11Ardent Mills proprietary research
12Ardent Mills proprietary research
14Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
15“Meet Pulses: The Sustainable Superfood,” USA Pulses, https://www.usapulses.org/consumers/resources/sustainable/1113-meet-pulses-the-sustainable-superfood/file.
16Nukala, Aishwarya, “Chickpeas Undergo a Revolution,” September 1, 2012, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chickpea-revolution/.
17Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
18Any mention of third-party brands does not imply an affiliation with Ardent Mills.
19“Chickpea Market Size to Grow by USD 5.70 billion,” Technavio, April 25, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/now/chickpea-market-size-grow-usd-000000920.html.
20Ardent Mills proprietary research
21Nielsen x AOC and Technomic