Consumers have gone nuts for nuts — or nut snacks, that is.

With greater focus on healthier sweets and treats — and a rise in snacking over traditional sit-down meals — nuts have become the go-to option for consumers looking for quick hits of nutrition.

And that’s not likely to change, research suggests. The global snacking market reached $21.1 billion in 2016 and is expected to swell at a compound annual growth rate of 5.1 percent through 2025, according to Grand View Research. 

“Increasing demand for nuts and seeds snacks due to their growing use from vegetarians is expected to fuel the industry growth,” Grand View’s report summary reads. “In addition, the product is widely used by non-vegetarians as well, since it provides a sustainable snacking option with an emphasis on protein-rich content. Nuts and seeds are also consumed as a pre-workout snacking option, which is anticipated to contribute to the demand.”

More specifically, U.K.-based research firm GlobalData valued the U.S. nut and seed market at $5.4 billion in 2016, up nearly one percent over 2015.

Jeff Smith, director of marketing for Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, expects to see more growth, thanks to growing awareness of nuts’ nutritional benefits. Almonds, he noted, contain protein, fiber, calcium, Vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin, making them a popular snack by themselves and as an ingredient.

“At Blue Diamond, we’ve seen this growth reflected in almonds being used in formulations for snack bars, granola-type snack mixes, crackers and in baked goods that use almond flour or other almond forms,” Smith said. “In addition to great taste, crunch and mouthfeel, almonds are packed with outstanding nutritional benefits.”

Helen Liew, v.p. of marketing for Hawaiian macadamia nut purveyor Mauna Loa, also pointed to fat content, which may make snackers unnecessarily wary.

“They’re high in protein and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (good fats!),” she said. “The word ‘fat’ can scare consumers, but eating small servings of macadamia nuts can help reach the desired protein intake consumers need for a healthy diet.”

Healthy does not have to mean boring, however. While they’re mild in flavor, nuts are an ideal vehicle for seasonings and coatings, says Janet Sconza Angers, director of marketing for Oakdale, Calif.-based Sconza Chocolates.

“Nut options are diverse, they are a well-loved food and have tremendous versatility for creation of sweet or salty snack profiles,” she said.

Sconza Chocolates would know. The company specializes in chocolate- and candy-coated nuts. Among Sconza’s offerings are Jordan Almonds, Lemoncello Almonds, Chocolate Toffee Almonds and Chocolate Coconut Cashews.

Sconza Angers noted the company introduced four new nut items in January, which include Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Almonds, Maple Toffee Almonds and Dark Chocolate Chili Peanuts — playing off the sweet-and-spicy flavor combination that has recently gained traction.

“There are so many exciting flavor profiles that continue to emerge, many based on flavor fusions from other countries,” she said. “The possibilities for innovation in the nut snack sector are enormous.”

Liew also pointed to nuts’ adaptability to a variety of snack formulations and applications. 

“Life is busier than ever, and everyone is on the go, so easy-to-carry snacks that are not only yummy but balanced are ideal when it comes to snacking,” she said. “At Mauna Loa, we believe in ‘crunching to a different beat,’ so our macadamia nuts can be eaten anytime, anywhere and are available in a full range of flavors.”

In 2017, Mauna Loa launched a handful of products with snacking in mind, including dry roasted macadamias in Maui Onion & Garlic and Mango Chipotle flavors, available in 5-oz. standup pouches. The Mango Chipotle macadamias, as well as a Honey Sriracha variety, are available in 11-oz. standup pouches.

Mauna Loa plans to release a sweet variety — Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel — in April, building off the widespread popularity of salt and caramel.

Blue Diamond’s research and development teams are also playing with flavors at the company’s Almond Innovation Center, among them Orange, Honey and Coconut, as well as savory options. Smith doesn’t anticipate that the experimentation will stop anytime soon.

“The ‘snackification’ of food offers a lot of opportunities to re-imagine the nut snacks sector with new formulations and combinations of flavor,” Smith said. “New flavor profiles for almond inclusions could potentially influence new flavors in nut snack products themselves — flavor combinations we have not considered before.”

Nonetheless, flavor is only part of the equation. Consumers are increasingly searching for different textures, in addition to small ways to indulge throughout the day. Nuts, whether they’re whole, chopped or blended, cover the whole spectrum.

“This idea of ‘permissible indulgence’ has led to a surge in product development within the bar category, featuring nut butters juxtaposed against chocolate and other nutrition-filled, crunchy ingredients, meeting consumer desires for both health and indulgent flavors,” Smith said.

Whether consumers prefer snacking on nuts themselves — or seeing them slipped into their favorite mix or bar — they are bound to continue to please. 

“The nut snack sector is constantly evolving with availability to consumers and product innovation,” Liew said. “With more products easily available for purchase, Mauna Loa hopes that consumers will start thinking of nuts as the go-to snack.”