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How innovative almond products are defining the future of snacking

Almonds have become a cornerstone of the global snacking market on the strength of an array of positive attributes, including their versatility, sensory properties, nutrient profile and compatibility with consumer trends. Attracted by these attributes, European manufacturers are making almonds the centrepiece of innovative products that are defining the future of snacking.

 The role almonds are playing within snacks in Europe and the rest of the world is illustrated by Innova Market Insights’ data on new product introductions. Innova found that growth of almond product introductions greatly outpaced that of the broader food and nut market from 2016 to 2017. Globally, almonds were included in 41% of nut introductions. That amounts to 10,589 new products featuring almonds, representing a 12% year-on-year increase. 

And innovation in Europe is powering the market.

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 In 2017, for the third consecutive year, almonds were the top nut in product introductions across Europe. Almost half of global product introductions with almonds came from Europe, helping the region retain its status as the most active market for the eleventh year. Manufacturers introduced more than 5,000 products in 2017, an increase of 14% over the previous year. Germany, France and the UK accounted for around half of the launches, making them the most active countries after the US.

 The double-digit growth in European launches of almond snacks follows a period in which consumer demand for the nut in the context of snacking has risen rapidly. The UK saw a steady increase in the proportion of people who associate almonds with snacking, rising from 2% in 2007 to 15% in 2017.1​ The association between almonds and snacking is also on the rise in Germany and, in particular, France, where the nut has skyrocketed in awareness, from 1% to 29% over a decade.

The rapid expansion of almonds into new markets

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Fast-rising interest in almonds led manufacturers to use the nut in a growing proportion of snacks they introduced across Europe from 2013 to 2017. The increase in penetration was particularly rapid in the bar category, both in Europe and around the world. Globally, the proportion of bars featuring almonds increased by 25% over the period.

The growth rate in Europe was even faster. By 2017, almond introductions in the category increased by 53%, making almonds the top nut used in bars. Many bars have started to use almond paste and butter, which, fuelled by the rise of the category, overtook almond pieces in 2017 to become the most widely-used form of the nut in new snacks.2

The types of bars introduced are changing, too, with a growing proportion of products targeting the premium market. However, while the proportion of bars making indulgent and premium claims increased rapidly, the dessert and ice cream sector accelerated faster, rising by more than 100%.

Thanks to the choice and versatility of almond forms – everything from sliced, diced, butter, spreads and almond beverages – companies have taken the claims of ‘indulgent’ and ‘premium’ outside of the confectionery sector, and re-focused on the rapid rise of high-end desserts and ice creams.

Launches of indulgent and premium almond snacks have risen in conjunction with the emergence of products that combine almonds with fruits, notably cranberries and coconuts, showing how almonds can help manufacturers meet consumer demands for healthy, yet indulgent, snacks.

Take chocolate. One-third of new chocolate product introductions in 2017 included a ‘better-for-you’ claim. At the same time, almonds continue to be the number one ingredient in global consumers’ ideal chocolate products. Demand for ‘healthy halo’ chocolate products has given rise to innovative uses of almond forms, such as almond butter, which has emerged as a top filling in ideal chocolate products, and a top choice for dark and white chocolate products.3

 How almonds cater to multiple secular trends

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 ​There are grounds to think the strong growth seen in recent years is sustainable.

 One reason for continued confidence in the prospects of almond snacks comes from data on the types of products that have fuelled recent growth. This data shows almonds are playing a big role in multiple emerging consumer trends that look set to run and run.

 Over the past five years, manufacturers have tapped into the positive nutrition attributes of almonds. The proportion of new almond products making gluten-free claims more than doubled over the period, both in Europe and globally. By 2017, one-fifth of new almond snacks made gluten-free claims. And the increasing use of almond flour has made almonds a go-to staple for gluten-free baking. While non-almond snacks are trying to meet demand for gluten-free products, data shows the nut is at the forefront of the trend and other shifts in consumer demand.

 “With free-from and clean label products now so mainstream, we frequently see almonds’ attributes named on packaging,” said Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova. “For example, we see a high use of gluten-free claims on almond bar products when compared to the general product category. In fact, over 56% of almond bars feature gluten-free positioning, compared with less than 46% for the category as a whole.”

 Other claims facilitated by almonds are rarer but look set to become key differentiators for snack manufacturers. Since 2013, the proportion of almond snack launches featuring claims about high levels of fibre or protein has doubled, culminating in more than 10% of introductions touting these benefits in 2017. The proportion of European almond snack launches making fibre claims quadrupled over the five-year window.

 Launches of products making no added sugar and low sodium claims are growing quickly, too, but were found on less than 4% of new launches globally in 2017. Given the consumer backlash against sugar and salt, and the high levels of these ingredients in many snacks, there is scope for almond products to win market share by making more sugar and salt label claims.

 The broad package of benefits associated with almonds is enabling manufacturers to make multiple claims on each product. Around the world, manufacturers are citing levels of protein, fibre, trans fats and gluten in the promotion of almond snacks. In many cases, manufacturers are communicating the claims in prominent positions on the front of product packaging.

 Consumer interest in such nutritional information has risen in parallel to rising awareness of the broader effects of purchasing decisions. Modern consumers want snacks to be both good for them and the world. This thinking is leading people to seek out products that make ethical or sustainability claims.

 Almond-based snacks are meeting this demand.

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 In 2017, more than 10% of almond snack launches made ethical claims related to humans. These claims emphasize how the manufacturer, and, by extension, the consumer are working fairly with farmers, investing in fair-trade projects and otherwise having a positive effect on humanity. The proportion of almond snacks featuring ethical claims related to the environment is on the rise, too.

 California almonds have a stand-alone sustainability story to tell. The almond community, largely made up of third and fourth-generation family farms, has embraced sustainability practices to preserve resources for future generations – such as the use of micro-irrigation technology, which has helped reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 33% over the past twenty years.4

 Almond farmers grow more than just the nut: they grow trees that store carbon and are transformed into electricity at the end of their lives, the edible kernel itself, the shell used for livestock bedding and the hulls for dairy feed.

 The ethical consumer trend is linked to the growing interest in vegan and flexitarian diets, where almonds are playing a central role. In 2017, almost 9% of almond snack launches featured vegan claims, representing a rapid rise globally. In Europe, the proportion of new almond snacks with vegan claims grew 680% from 2013 to 2017.2

 How European innovation is shaping the future of snacking

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 The breadth of trends addressed by almonds is evident in the proliferation of innovative products in Europe, where manufacturers are introducing nutritious, indulgent snacks associated with positive effects on people and the environment.

 In the UK, I Love Snacks has created smoked almonds that it pitches as a nutritious, low calorie and gluten-free snack. Lifefood is going after a similar market with its Lifebar Plus, which is marketed as an “organic bio vegan superfood bar.”

 Almonds can bridge the gap between such worthy claims and the indulgent snacks many consumers desire. In Italy, Buratti is catering to the premium and gluten-free markets with mojito-flavoured sugared almonds. Similarly, Spain’s Dhul has made almonds a cornerstone of a line of vegan desserts that it markets as much on their sensory properties as their effects on people and the planet. Other products, such as Nestlé’s roasted almond chocolate bars, focus squarely on indulgence.

 These products target subsections of the snacking market but the appeal of some claims is universal. In all categories, start-ups, big food companies and private label manufacturers alike are promoting the fact their products contain almonds from California.

 The fact that manufacturers in countries as diverse as Germany, Honduras, the Philippines and the US are highlighting the source of their nuts, often through front-of-pack claims, is testament to Californian almonds’ reputation for quality and authenticity. This reputation gives manufacturers a way to complement the health, ethical and free-from claims unlocked by almonds.

 By combining these complementary claims, manufacturers stand to meet ever-increasing consumer demands for healthy, ethical products. And, by including tried, trusted and tasty almonds as a key ingredient in new product introductions, they are in a position to continuously meet ever-changing consumer demands and appetites – now, and in the future.

 

References

 

1. 2017 AAU & 2017 Snacking Study

2. Innova Market Insights. Global snacking report: Focus on almonds

3. Sterling Rice Group. Global Consumer Chocolate Study. 2018

4. University of California, 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012. Almond Board of California, 1990-94, 2000-14.