Almonds are the top nut used in new product introductions worldwide, and almond-containing product launches are at an all-time high in North America, says market research organization Mintel.

New product launches containing almonds increased 30% last year and chocolate confectionery was the leading category for global new product launches, according to a Chicago-based Mintel study. The material was presented by the Almond Board of California (ABC), Modesto, Calif., which, in its own consumer survey, found that 70% of Americans indicated a preference for chocolate that contains almonds compared with chocolate without almonds.

Richard Cusick, technical advisor at Barry Callebaut USA’s Chocolate Academy, Chicago, says the almond/chocolate combination is a winner when consumers are looking for a “better-for-you” indulgence. Almonds are the heart of many classic products, but can also enhance the texture, flavor and visual appeal of almost any sweet application, he points out.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., the 2011 Californian almond crop is forecast to hit a record 1.95 billion lb.-19% up from last year’s crop.