Nature’s Powerhouses

By Molly V. Strzelecki

As consumers get smarter about nutrition and what they’re putting in their bodies, more bakers and snack producers are responding by incorporating a greater amount of fruits and nuts in their products.

The word on the street is that Americans need to get healthy. Actually, that’s the word on the street, the buildings, the billboards, and blazoned across the sky in curlicue script. But Americans don’t just need to get healthy — they need healthy to taste good.
Enter fruits and nuts ... as ingredients in snack foods and bakery goods, that is. Consumers want products that are healthy and taste yummy, and manufacturers are doing their best to give them just that.
When bakers talk now about adding sweet morsels and crunchy bits to their products, it’s not in reference to semi-sweet chocolate and savory crispy clusters, but rather a natural burst of flavor that comes from fruits or nuts.
Consumers are becoming smarter in what they eat, such as the consumption of sweeteners,” says Tracy R. Przybylowski, marketing manager for Philadelphia-based Sweet Ovations. “There is definitely an increase in preps that contain fruit, and the requests are for traditional items such as cookies and snack bars, and the growing healthy bar snack segment.”
A Berry Nice Concept
Healthy eating and diets have been ongoing trends for the last couple years, and they continue to be the biggest driver for incorporating fruits and nuts in snacks and baked goods.
“Consumers’ rising interest in healthy eating has had a positive impact on the use of berries in snack and bakery items,” says Cat McKenzie, marketing director for the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, Corvallis, Ore. “Snack items such as granola and energy bars are increasingly looking to berries as a way to boost their antioxidant levels and overall neutraceutical profile. Bakery items are also increasingly looking to berries as a way to give dessert items a nutritional advantage.”
Bakers also have made changes in pie and cake formulations to create products that boast no trans fats, add whole grain flours, and include antioxidant-rich berries.
“This gives the consumer a healthy choice for either snacks or desserts,” McKenzie says.
Marion Burton, associate marketing manager for Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, United Kingdom, points to a recent Datamonitor new product report showing that 240 fruit-infused products were launched in the first half of 2007, compared to 124 in the whole of 2000.
“Fruit ingredients, which are seen as naturally healthy, are an ideal way to transform food products lacking in nutritional value,” Burton explains. “Cereal bars and baked products are prime examples of where healthy snacking and fruit inclusion have taken off. We have found that cranberry, with its well-known health benefits, is particularly popular in these applications, as it delivers on color and taste, and is supremely process tolerant.”
Bakers want to expand the number of claims they can make.
“Right now, we’re seeing requests from our customers which will allow them to make claims, [such as] ‘fruit servings’ or ‘vitamin fortified,’” Przybylowski says. “We are also receiving requests for super fruits, or fruits with high antioxidant contents, such as pomegranates or blueberries.”
Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif., suggests that incorporating blueberries and blueberry formats in baked goods and snack items can reduce the amount of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners used in a snacks and baked goods.
“In blueberries, fructose is 50% and glucose is 49% of the total sugars,” he notes. “This pattern is similar to the distribution in sugar, which is about half glucose and half fructose.”
Payne adds that easy to formulate, cultivated blueberries are available year-round in a wide variety of formats that provide sweetness and taste, whether fresh, dried, freeze-dried, or as a puree, concentrate, or juice. The multiple formats allow bakers and snack manufacturers to add natural sweetness and real fruit flavor to baked goods, fillings, snacks and more, and blueberries themselves can provide moisture to boot.
Larry Blagg, senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif., adds that bakers are looking for ways to simplify their labels and replace chemical shelf-life enhancers with natural ones.
 “California raisin paste and juice concentrate are two products that can readily accomplish that goal and are being used more and more frequently to replace such items as potassium sorbate or BHT,” he says. “Fresh breads, pastries, and rolls with raisins or raisin products are achieving three to seven days more shelf life.”
Aww, Nuts
According to a recent Almond Board of California survey, 31% of foodservice and consumer packaged good professionals chose almonds as their favorite ingredient nut.
“While each nut identified by survey respondents appeared to own a different profile, the data shows how taste, texture, versatility, consumer demand and health benefits set almonds apart and contribute to the overall appeal of including almonds on menus and in new packaged products,” says Harbinder Maan, manager of foodservice and industrial marketing for the Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif.  
Julie Nargang, director of corporate marketing at Elgin, Ill.-based Fisher Nuts, notes that consumers want snacks that are high in protein and low in saturated fats, and that nuts “offer a big dividend of both.”
“It’s no secret that nuts have a better balance of good versus bad fat than many traditional snacks and include essential fatty acids that are good for cellular health,” Nargang says. “Nuts are also an excellent source of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. And, they provide many of the same nutrients as meat and poultry, especially protein.”
Organic Impact
Besides healthy eating trends, organic ingredients continue to transform the perception of many snacks and bakery items. Fruits and nuts, which are full of natural goodness, are ideal ingredients in purveying this trend, particularly if grown organically.
“Organic products are impacting the California raisin business, as well as the rest of the food business,” Blagg says. “Organic packers now represent over 3% of the total of our production and were more closer to 1% just four years go. More acreage is being turned into organic production.”
Although demand for organic ingredients continues to grow, the widespread use of the ingredients still is a little ways away.
“We are seeing a lot of requests [for organic ingredients], but market launches tend to be few,” Przybylowski says. “We suspect this is due to the limits of availability of the organic fruit sources.”
Going organic is certainly an area laden with opportunities, with sales and new product development steadily increasing.
“Natural products are equally as prominent, or perhaps more so at the moment, as many consumers are becoming increasingly wary of artificial ingredients,” Burton explains. “In the snack market, however, the focus is still very much on replacing indulgent snacks with healthier version.”
With consumer requests for healthier ingredients on the rise, producers are waking up to the idea that fruits and nuts can be a boon in this area. Whether blueberries or raisins, almonds or cashews, or any of the fruits and nuts in between, all these little powerhouses of nature pack an intense punch, ingredient-wise. Fruits add the sweetness, nuts add the crunch, and all of it adds up to better ingredients for healthier snacks and bakery products.  SF&WB
A Fistful of Health
Almonds offer many health benefits, according to Golden West Nuts, Inc., Ripon, Calif.
Almonds are low in saturated fat and contain many other protective nutrients: calcium and magnesium for strong bones, vitamin E, and compounds called phytochemicals, which may help protect against cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
They also can reduce heart attack risk. A Loma Linda School of Public Health study showed that those in the group who consumed nuts five times a week had a 50% reduction in risk of heart attack.
In addition, almonds can help lower cholesterol. In one clinical study, Gene Spiller, director of the Health Research and Studies Center, Inc. showed that almonds added to the diet had a favorable effect on blood cholesterol levels and that none of the study groups experienced weight gain.