Tree nuts are still a solid choice for food manufacturers and consumers alike due to a growing demand for healthy snacks, diverse textures in tried and true products and weight management trends (think paleo). But almonds in particular, are this year's winner for new food product introductions worldwide.
Almonds were the top ingredient nut and top pick in the snack category this year and grew 148 percent since 2005, according to new research by Innova Market Insights. New product introductions with almonds surpassed all other food and nut introductions, including peanuts, cashews and walnuts.
The flavor and texture of almonds are helping the nut gain mass appeal with 24 percent growth in the last year, reports the Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif. "From our research, we can see that items with wholesome, natural appeal like almonds are certainly gaining attention," says Molly Spence, regional director-North America for the Almond Board of California. "Manufacturers are leveraging almonds' origin, texture and nutritional profile directly on product labels to increase the consumer appeal, including descriptors such as 'almond crunch' and 'California-grown.'"
Bill Morecraft, general manager of Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, Calif., agrees that texture is impacting the nut segment and says manufacturers are now incorporating nuts into products that may not have been considered a snack until now.
"Greek yogurt is enjoying incredible popularity in various serving sizes, and mix-ins such as almonds, granola or fruit enhance the value by adding flavor and texture," he says. "Whether that means crispy, crunchy or smooth, textures and mouthfeel play major roles in purchasing decisions among shoppers. Almonds in a range of forms, from split, sliced, diced and natural flakes, provide that crunch within the product or as a coating, topping or crust."
Blue Diamond says flavor profiles, such as honey, orange and coconut, are spurring new products. As a supplier of consumer products, the company itself recently released a line of coffee-inspired almonds in Roasted Coffee, Mocha and Caramel Macchiato flavors to reflect evolving consumer tastes.
Well-known for being a "healthy" nut, the nutritional value of almonds is expected to carry its popularity into next year as well. "We know consumers will be snacking more — meaning more snacking occasions — and looking for healthier ways to satisfy that need," Morecraft says. "Almonds and other nuts are well positioned to leverage this interest. We're expecting a continued demand for new flavors and flavor combinations that can be carried by nuts and incorporated into new or existing products."
New research that almonds may be healthier than initially thought is further supporting the notion of healthy snacking, and also catching the attention of food manufacturers. A recent study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found snacking on 1.5 oz. of almonds (about 250 calories) a day reduced hunger, but without weight gain. This is all with the added benefit of increasing monounsaturated fat and vitamin E levels.
Hughson Nut Inc., Hughson, Calif., attributes the nutritional value of almonds to the popularity of almond milk and crackers, and most recently, almond bran. Made from almond skins, which contain nearly four times the dietary fiber and less than half the fat of whole almonds, almond bran can be used as a replacement in gluten-free products.
The skins are first removed during a blanching process, where they are dried and then ground into a powder or cereal consistency. The company, which says it developed the process for almond bran, markets the product under its Nut-rition brand.
Hughson Nut also says natural almond meals and almond flours, which also contain almond skins, are a popular and cost efficient ingredient option for manufactures to add almond flavor and increase the nutritional appeal of their products.
"For the first time since 2007, consumer attitudes toward almonds increased on liking, health, crunch and taste to reach all-time highs on each measure, and almonds are the nut consumers eat most often in other chocolate, cereal and bakery items," Spence says. "We've been excited to see that demand for almonds has continued to grow each year, and we anticipate the trend will continue."