Easy Nuts To Crack

By Deborah Cassell

The only thing that’s tough about today’s snack nuts is choosing between smoked almonds, glazed walnuts, honey roasted peanuts, heart-healthy hazelnuts and sweet-meets-salty trail mixes. Such nutty offerings now are as easy to find as they are to swallow.

Now that the holiday season is ending, there’s no need for a nutcracker … or sugar plum fairies, for that matter. Today, nuts are among the most popular snacks on the market, and it’s easy to see why. With so many varieties out there — everything from the perennial peanut to smoked almonds to indulgent salty sweet combinations — the new year looks bright for snack nut manufacturers.
What’s driving the trend? Growing interest in healthier snacks, for one. Marketers should take advantage by touting the benefits of nuts through qualified health claims on their packaging and nutrition-related logos available to them, suggests Vicki Nesper, spokesperson for The Hazelnut Council, which is introducing a new nutrition seal promoting the fact that hazelnuts are an excellent source of Vitamin E and a heart-healthy indulgence.
Another driver is consumer demand for on-the-go snacks that all ages can enjoy, from the pee-wee football player to the time-starved teen to the multitasking soccer mom. Packaging nuts and nut-and-fruit-mixes in single-serve portions encourages consumers to eat them on the go, Nesper says.
Regardless of the reasons, it’s clear that this category is forging ahead in the form of trail mixes, indulgent blends and spicy new flavors. Here are the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of what’s happening in the marketplace.
Peanut Gallery
Although many other nuts compete for attention in snack, candy and checkout aisles, as well as convenience and club stores, America remains loyal to one variety. The peanut remains the country’s favorite, and manufacturers continue to take advantage of that fact by introducing new flavors, package sizes and salty sweet combinations.
For example, McKee Foods, Collegedale, Tenn., recently launched a new Sunbelt Virginia Salted Peanut single-serve packet that offers 2.25 oz. and sells for 50 cents.
“The Virginia peanut variety is a better tasting peanut, and we think consumers will taste the difference,” says Craig Phillips, Sunbelt product manager.
Meanwhile, Kraft Foods’ iconic Planters brand, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, continues to put the “nut” in “nutrition” with its many peanut products.
Although tasty when salted or dry- or honey-roasted, peanuts also go great with other ingredients. Brown & Haley, Tacoma, Wash., maker of Almond Roca, has taken note of the peanut’s longstanding fame and introduced Honey Roasted Peanut Roca buttercrunch toffee. A 5.8-oz. stand-up bag sells for $2.99.
Meanwhile, Adams & Brooks, Inc., Los Angeles, recently launched PNuttles Cajun Mix, a sweet-and-spicy combination of crunchy, butter toffee-coated peanuts, sunflower kernels spiced with fiery tasting Cajun corn, sesame and rice crackers. A clear-windowed pouch retails for $1.49.
In addition, Beer Nuts Brand Snacks, Bloomington, Ill., has unveiled a new Bar Mix in a bag, featuring nuts, pretzels, roasted corn and sesame stix. According to Thomas Foster, the company’s director of business development, 48% of salty snacks are purchased by consumers ages 18-39, a demographic Beer Nuts continues to focus on.
Getting in the Mix
Trail mixes, both homemade and store-bought, have long been staples for outdoorsmen, but such blends now are enjoyed by everyday consumers, young and old, who like the flavor combination created by mixing nuts with raisins, berries and granola, for example.
Pairing nuts with antioxidant-rich fruits is a trend that highlights the health benefits of the ingredients, Nesper says.
For example, Diamond Foods’s Emerald, Harmony and Homa brands offer a number of options. Three new Emerald trail mixes — Breakfast Blend, Berry Blend and Tropical Blend — appeal to shoppers searching for tasty yet healthy doses of almonds, peanuts and cashews combined with yogurt-covered raisins and dried blueberries, strawberries and cranberries in portion-control grab-bags and to-go packets.
Fisher Nuts’ new Fisher Fusions line takes snack nuts in another direction by adding in pretzels, crackers, and even sliced green olives and wasabi peas to create a unique taste experience. Combinations include Asian Spice, Cheddar Crunch, Trail Blazer, Sweet Harvest, Martini Mix, Country Honey and Tropical Twist. Fisher Fusion Snack Mixes come in 4-6-oz. re-sealable bags. Fisher Nuts is owned by John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., Elk Grove Village, Ill.
According to a recent survey commissioned by Fisher and conducted by Harris Interactive, when it comes to snack foods, U.S. adults enjoy a variety of flavors and textures, and most (82%) are aware that nuts are a good source of protein.
“I think people are ready for new contemporary snack nuts,” concurs Vicki Zeigler, public relations manager for Diamond Foods, Stockton, Calif.. “According to the statistics we have, healthy snacks are growing at a rate much faster than the snack category as a whole and, of course, snack nuts are included. We’re expecting snack nuts to grow to $2.8 billion this year.”
Salty Sweet Snacks
Growing interest in sweet-meets-salty flavor combinations is a major factor driving interest not just in trail mixes, but in more indulgent creations. While peanuts have always had a place in Snickers, Baby Ruth and the like, many upscale chocolate makers now are incorporating salty nuts into their bars.
“Adding a little bit of chocolate to a trail mix is a good way to make it feel more upscale and indulgent,” Nesper says. Adding small portions of dark chocolate to nuts also can be perceived as healthy, she notes. A 2005 study by The Hazelnut Council found 95% of consumers believe that a food can be both healthy and indulgent at the same time, and 75% said that dark chocolate with hazelnuts is both healthy and indulgent.
With that in mind, The Hazelnut Council has partnered with Au Bon Pain to offer a Hazelnut Dream Cookie and a Hazelnut Mocha Brownie starting in January 2007. The council also is excited about Hershey’s new Cacao Reserve, a milk chocolate bar featuring hazelnuts.
“Tree nuts in general are a very healthy snack option, and hazelnuts are among the healthiest tree nuts,” Nesper says. “Hazelnuts are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They are an excellent source of Vitamin E and are also a source of calcium, potassium, folate, protein and fiber.”
Like almonds and peanuts, hazelnuts can be found in a variety of mixes that include dried fruit as well, such as Socorro Blend from Sahale Snacks, Seattle, which combines hazelnuts with macadamia nuts, mango, papaya and Southwestern spices such as chipotle, cumin and cilantro.
“The American palate is becoming more sophisticated, and exotic flavors are becoming more mainstream,” Nesper says. “Hazelnuts go very well with exotic flavor combinations.”
Almond and Walnut Joy
Nuts are big business for Diamond Foods, which takes the snacks to a new level with its premium Emerald line.
Emerald is definitely not your ho-hum nut brand,” Zeigler says. For example, Emerald nuts come in bright green, “consumer-friendly” packaging, she notes. Canisters are ergonomically designed to fit in your hand and in car cup-holders with lids that measure out exactly one-third cup of nuts, “which is the exact amount recommended by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] for heart healthy,” Zeigler adds.
Diamond Foods introduced a new line of Emerald Smoked Almonds in August. The crunchy, trans-fat free snack contains heart-healthy unsaturated fat, antioxidants, Vitamin E, calcium, fiber, magnesium and other nutrients. It comes in 2.5-oz. convenience store pouches, 11-oz. canisters and 2.5-oz. pegboard bags.
Almonds aside, Diamond  Foods also suggests that consumers sprinkle Omega-3-rich walnuts in their salads and desserts. As such, it offers walnuts in unique flavors such as Butter Toffee Glazed, as well as Original Glazed. It even has an Apple Cinnamon Glazed Walnuts ‘n Almonds combo.
In a nutshell, so to speak, no matter what the flavor or variety, consumers go nuts for nuts in every form. It’s as easy as that.