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Consumers and Food Processors Agree Almonds are In

March 26, 2009
Bloom is on the almond, and the bees are doing great.

Almonds may be one of the most versatile and beneficial foods on the planet, but getting the sweet, nutritious nut to market isn’t easy, The trees require a delicate balance of temperature, the right amount of rain and lots of bee traffic for a successful crop.

An ideal location for almond orchards is California, where they span 500 miles throughout the central valley. In fact, 100 percent of U.S. production of almonds occurs there, and the California crop accounts for 80 percent of worldwide production.

“Almonds are California’s No. 1 agricultural export [to 90 countries] and demand, both international and domestic, has never been greater -- 1,600 million pounds will be produced in 2009 versus 824 million in 2001, a business valued at about $2.5 billion,” says Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Modesto-based Almond Board of California (www.almondboard.com).

Eco-friendly, the almond industry provides its hulls for animal feed. Shells go to the chicken and dairy industry for bedding (some are used for bio fuel) and the prunings are used to produce electricity or go back to the soil. To combat food safety concerns, the industry has implemented a mandatory regulation for pasteurization of almonds, which grow on trees.

I recently had an opportunity to see the breathtaking sight of this year’s almond bloom courtesy of Dan Cummings, owner and general manager of Cummings-Violich Inc., which manages more than 7,000 acres of almonds and walnuts as well as Olivarez Honey Bees Inc.

Cummings oversees pollination, honey production and the queen bee business, with more than 10,000 colonies, producing more than 150,000 honey bee queens for resale annually. The company also funds research to keep bees healthy and vital. We visited with his bees, which were remarkably vital, healthy and friendly.

Almond Composition
A 1-ounce serving of almonds contains:
  • Protein 6g
  • MUFA 9g
  • PUFA 3g
  • Dietary Fiber 3.5g
  • Magnesium 76mg
  • Phytosterols 39mg
  • Vitamin E 7mg (alpha tocopherol 95%)
  • Polyphenols 174mg
Source: USDA

A tour of processor Riverwest Processing Inc. (www.riverwestprocessing.com) in Glenn followed, where owner Barbara Smith showed us the safeguards in place for tracking almonds from a specific orchard to customer within minutes.

A visit to the Culinary Institute of America (www.ciachef.edu) gave us the chance to meet Chris Loss, chair of Ventura Foods Menu Research and Development, who with Sensory Spectrum is working on a sensory lexicon for 20 different almond varieties. Defining flavor as a multi-modal, an interaction between the senses and the environment, Loss said, “Flavor involves taste (gustation); sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; aroma (olfaction); appearance; texture/touch; sound (audition); pain (trigeminal response); and temperature.”

A recent survey of volume foodservice and consumer packaged goods professionals conducted by the Almond Board found flavor is the most valuable aspect of an ingredient, followed by texture, health benefits, consumer interest and cost.

“The relation between ideal ingredient attributes and almond-specific attributes is strong,” says Harbinder Maan, the Almond Board’s manager of foodservice and industrial marketing. “Chefs and product developers are aware that their consumers make food choices based on multiple factors, and regardless of the economic environment, there are craveable benefits that almonds deliver that just can’t be replaced.”

According to Mintel Menu Insights, almonds continue to be the most diversified nut, with share most evenly distributed across the dessert (33 percent), salad (27 percent) and entree categories (26 percent). This year, almonds, are set to pass peanuts as the favorite nut globally. Sales of health and energy bars with almonds grew more than the overall category, with an increase in unit sales from 97 million in 2006 to 104 million in 2007.

Almond granola bars’ share of the overall granola bar category increased in 2007, averaging 41 percent of sales in this $1.5 billion category. In the most recent consumer attitudes survey conducted by Sterling Rice Group, 87 percent of consumers rated almonds good or excellent for being nutritious and 61 percent say almonds are the nut they choose to eat on an ongoing basis.

Indeed, almond consumption has doubled per capita in the U.S. between 1999 and 2007 to 1.3 pounds, particularly after 2003’s qualified heart health claim and 2005’s addition of almonds to the USDA MyPyramid.

Speaking of health, 23 almonds a day will likely reduce your triglyceride levels, an established risk fact for developing heart disease, according to nutrition research funded by the Almond Board.

“The data suggests that an intact plant cell wall, as found in whole almonds, may impact how much and how quickly fat is released into the blood, contributing to a lower acute rise in blood triglycerides,” noted Sarah Berry of the Nutritional Sciences Division of Kings College, London.

There is also an E-mergency in the U.S., as the majority of consumers do not get enough vitamin E. “Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that the body needs daily, and most people don’t realize they can fill that ‘E gap’ with easily available and enjoyable whole foods,” said Maret Traber, professor of nutrition, principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute and an expert on vitamin E.

Almonds are an excellent source.

With the added punch of protein and fiber, almonds satiate cravings for other foods, so they are ideal for weight management. “Almonds add more nutrients to a food product,” says Karen Lapsley, the Almond Board’s director of scientific affairs. Ounce for ounce, she says, almonds are the nut highest in protein (6g), fiber (3g), calcium (75mg), vitamin E (7.5mg), riboflavin (0.3mg) and niacin (1mg). Also, the skins of almonds contain high levels of flavonoid antioxidants, comparable to many fruits and vegetables.  

“The pace of change is out of control; we are living news as it happens,” says one of the most respected trendwatchers in the world, Marian Salzman, partner and CMO, Porter Novelli Worldwide. “There is a total convergence of life, home, office, family and friends, and everything is more local is the new global as we connect. Home is the safest, most exotic destination of all, a click away from anywhere.” We will show our love with time, she adds, noting there are opportunities for new products in the 20 minutes we spend together for breakfast and the hour it takes to eat dinner. “Consumers are going back to basics, simplifying, getting rid of stuff and thinking twice about what they spend. Frugalistas are heading back to the kitchen, and using cooking as entertainment.” Food will be a more low-cost creative outlet as we mix and match ingredients and engage both left and right brain. “Diets are out of the zone as people turn toward balanced meals, smaller portions, staying away from ‘bad’ ingredients and eating foods that deliver health benefits,” she says. Saltzman predicts divorce will decrease, and the kitchen will be the big social room to entertain friends and neighbors. Volunteering will grow, and a return to values will include showing respect, more civility, and being more humane. 

Stacey Humble, director, North American marketing and global strategic initiatives, unveiled a new logo and the motto Taste For Life, the new global image of the Almond Board, a two year labor of love which included research with input from nine countries to understand the global perception of almonds. The main themes that rise above regional differences include Simple, Sensual and Contemporary. Taste For Life has a double meaning. It conveys passion (zest for life), plus health and longevity (for life). 

Check out the options at www.AlmondsAreIn.com.

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