By Margaret Malochleb
What’s the No. 1 nut? According to Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, the answer is almonds. In a webinar sponsored by The Almond Board, Williams noted that in 2019 alone, almonds were featured in more than 10,000 global new product launches, an increase of 13% from 2018. “It’s one of those hero ingredients that I think is probably on everybody’s short list just because it can be used in so many different ways,” she said.
Among the categories in which new food and beverage launches included almonds are confectionery (24%), snacks (19%), bakery (16%), bars (13%), dairy (8%), and cereals (7%). Snacks, in particular, are a popular category due to increasingly busy lifestyles in which consumers are managing careers, families, and social lives while striving to maintain good health.
According to research from Innova, one in three consumers reported that snacks are a help in their quest for good health. “It’s becoming a real central focus of innovation across many categories,” said Williams. “Just about anything can be a snack. A yogurt can be a snack. A bar is a snack. Some beverages are also positioned as snacks. If we look at that snacking word, it really has jumped across just about every category. And we’ve seen a 7% average annual growth in launches that have a snacking claim.”
Williams sees the snacking category as a continuum that stretches from healthy to indulgent, with consumers looking for a variety of textures that run the gamut from creamy to crunchy. She noted that 70% of global consumers said texture makes a food or beverage a more interesting experience. “Food is definitely an experience,” she reflected, “and we’ve all just come through a period where the only entertainment we had was food.”
Other snacking trends Williams pointed to were the preference for creamy textures and clean label in confectionery; the use of fruit, nuts, and plant-based protein to give a boost to chocolate; and the inclusion of protein and fiber in a variety of snack foods, including bars. In the bakery category, gluten-free claims were the most prominent.
Williams concluded by noting that consumer demand for better-for-you snacks will continue to drive the growing global interest in almonds and almond ingredients. Nut butters will continue to spark consumer interest, along with confectionery and chocolates containing nut pieces. And lastly, by combining flavor and texture profiles, new avenues for innovation can be explored when developing snacks featuring almonds as an ingredient.
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Margaret Malochleb is associate editor of Food Technology magazine.