Sugar-free quinoa breakfast cereal finds success as creative consumers blur categories
The cereal is made of 100% extruded, whole grain quinoa and nothing else.
“Everyone told it would sell better if it was sweetened but that’s exactly what we’re not doing," said the brand's founder Jason Abbot. "We really just want to give people a wholesome base that has a good texture, flavour, that’s pre-cooked and ready to eat. All you have to do is sprinkle your own sugar on but you get to decide how much sugar you add.”
Surprisingly, the breakfast cereal has actually found most success in France – despite the fact that the market for breakfast cereals is not as developed there as in the UK, where Quinoa Crack was initially launched - as its neutral taste allows people to be inventive.
“We didn’t expect this but in France lots of people use it as croutons in soups and salads. Some people mix with it with nuts and raisins and have it as an aperitif snack. The fact it doesn’t have sugar at all makes it really versatile and possible to use for savoury food.”
“I think that’s what we need at the minute. A lot of the decisions about what we eat are actually made for us by the big brands. They’ve studied us and figured out what we want before even we know.
“This product gets people to think about what they eat and to say ‘We could try this, we could add that’. That’s our target customer: the intelligent consumers who want to take control of what they eat.”
Retailing at €6 per 375 g box, the product's packaging is intended to counter the often “drab” style of better-for-you healthy products.
Open to innovation and buyers
Quinoa Crack’s website gives various serving suggestions for the product, from homemade cereal bars to granola mixes and desserts. But Abbott is not interested in developing other consumer-facing products beyond Quinoa Crack breakfast cereal. Interested buyers and new product developers, however, are welcome.
“We’re producers, not food manufacturers so were going to stick with just one ingredient and aren’t necessarily interested in making [other products such as] snack bars, that’s somebody else’s job.
“But we have the volumes to meet manufacturers’ demands. We grow over two thousand tonnes of quinoa each year so it’s pretty much inconceivable to not be able to meet an order. The farmers want to produce more of it if we can just find the market to then sell it.”
Made in France
Abbott, who is orginally from the US but has a French wife and has called France home since 2004, has a background in the seed business, and was involved in developing a non-patented quinoa seed that can tolerate a northern European climate with Wageningen University.
Quinoa d’Anjou is a cross of two varieties of the ancient grain – Ecuadoran and Chilean – created using traditional plant breeding techniques.
The producer-turned entrepreneur runs the 18-hectare ‘research farm’, conducting trials to find the optimal sowing dates, seed densities or harvest strategies. Farmers in the Anjou and Loire area are then contracted to grow the quinoa crop through the Coopérative agricole des Pays de la Loire (CAPL).
“We provide the seeds, know-how and the market for them," Abbot told us. "We buy back the quinoa which we then sell in bulk to firms to use as an ingredient or repackaged food product.”
Proudly sustainable – but not organic
Quinoa that’s grown in Europe for the European market, rather than being shipped across the Atlantic, also has a solid sustainability story to tell, although this isn’t a visible part of Quinoa Crack’s positioning.
By choice, however, Quinoa Crack is not organic.
“The farmers in Anjou I want to work with are not organic. Our priority was to provide our farmers with alternative crops, putting them on a good track to sustainability. If we wanted to produce organic only, we would have had to go further afield to find them," Abbot said.
“People might not understand it but these farmers are in a vicious cycle of monoculture and intensive agriculture. By having alternative crops for European farmers to grow means they don’t wear out the ground with wheat, corn and then more wheat and corn. When farmers start to grow world crops, they have no control over the price or where it ends up – maybe it’s feeding chickens in China, who knows. They are part of a system that requires a lot of inputs and is really hard on the land.
“As we develop the market for European-grown quinoa, that develops the opportunities for more diversified crops and crop rotation, which is the basis of sustainable farming.”
“I think that’s more urgent [than going organic],” he added.