Globally, the nut-based spread category is in growth. According to forecasts from Mordor Intelligence, the sector is expected
to see a compound annual growth rate of 6.9% through to 2023. While peanut butter leads the category, sales of almond, cashew, macadamia nut, coconut, and walnut are also gaining popularity.
Nuts are also making their way into other product formats. Innova Market Insights noted that nut bar introductions are up by 35%, with almond introductions outpacing the category with a 47% increase.
This category expansion has been supported by a shift in the way consumers understand the health benefits of nut consumption.
Consumers are becoming more actively engaged in understanding how and why their food impacts their health. According to Innova, seven in ten UK consumers want to know more about ingredients and understand them better.
Brian Loader, CEO of Green & Gold Macadamias, observed: “In the past, the difference between healthy fats and unhealthy fats was poorly understood. Because of this, it was advocated to avoid eating nuts due to their high fat content. Recently this has been entirely debunked. Increasingly consumers are understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy fat. There has been a fundamental large shift in consumer attitudes.”
Jenny Heap, a registered dietitian at the Almond Board of California, has also witnessed this trend. “Consumers appreciate that not all fats are created equal and will increasingly call for ingredients that deliver monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to support healthy cholesterol, enable the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and provide energy.”
She suggested that almonds are a “powerhouse of nutrients” and “are high in healthy fats”.
Nuts as a healthy fat source
Dietary studies have linked nut consumption to a number of health benefits and, Loader noted, nut consumption has, in fact, been linked to reduce overall calorie intake because of their satiating properties. “They are very nutritious so they are not empty calories", he suggested.
While the specific nutritional profile of different nuts varies, they are typically high in monounsaturated fat, with helps to cholesterol and so is healthy for the heart.
Many nuts boast a high flavonoid content. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits.
Nuts can also be rich in omega 7, vitamins, magnesium, dietary fibre, phosphorous and manganese. Some nuts, such as macadamias, also contain high levels of Palmitoleic acid, which has been shown to reduce aging of skin.
With a high protein content, nuts are frequently used in plant-based protein products.
Innovation with nuts as ‘hero’ ingredient
Dariela Roffe-Rackind, director of Europe and global PR at the Almond Board of California, believes that product innovation is helping to drive consumer excitement in the functional protein snack category.
“Snack bars and bites are also branching out, with small portion ‘energy balls’ hitting the market. Bites, clusters, crisps, chips, thins, and brittles welcomes sophisticated flavour profiles and new takes on ingredients that can serve as cues for energy-boosting nourishment,” he told FoodNavigator.
“With a safe and stable supply year over year, almonds are an ingredient that manufacturers of functional protein snacks can consistently count on to help them grow and deliver on consumers’ taste, texture and nutrition demands, as well as their need for wholesome, natural, sustainable choices.”
Loader also highlighted the innovation taking place using macadamia nuts as an ingredient. “Innovation continues in this space with organisations increasingly adopting macadamias into their product lines.
“It is a versatile nut due to its high healthy fat content and unique crunchy buttery texture. We have seen many new products in diary replacement (milks, cheeses and otherwise), replacement of meat (high in protein), snacking (cookies, ice cream, confectionary) nut bars and nut butters.”
As Loader suggested, there is strong potential for nuts to capitalise on the growing interest in plant-based protein sources. According to Innova, plant-based product launchers were up 49% globally between 2012 and 2016.
Roffe-Rackind suggested that this affords food manufacturers the opportunity to use nuts as a “hero” ingredient. “The term “plant-based” has made an extraordinary leap in recent years, going from niche lifestyle choice to mainstream concept. The shift has given rise to an exciting new genre of innovative plant-forward products that signal premium positioning and address consumer concerns ranging from clean labels to specialised diets.”