Our 2013 State of the Industry report on snacks focuses on new snack products, the perspective of snack manufacturers and product leaders and market sales.
Hanging around the pool on a hot summer’s day curbs appetites and makes consumers crave healthy snacks that won’t make them feel like reaching for a pool noodle. Nuts, seeds and trail mix combine flavor with function to provide healthful, appealing summertime snacks.
The snack category is undergoing a massive shift, which has impacted the nuts, seeds and trail mix segments. With consumers snacking more often throughout the day, as opposed to eating full meals, portable snacks are becoming more readily available. In addition, continued consumer focus on more healthful eating and functional ingredients is driving the growth of cleaner labels and allergen-free products. Finally, the evolution of Americans’ palates, the latter of which are becoming more sophisticated, is leading to unique and innovative flavors and a wider selection of products.
“Consumers are snacking more times during the day and, as they do so, they want to ensure that each of those snacks is a delicious, healthy option,” says Erika Cottrell, vice president of marketing for Sahale Snacks, Seattle, which makes nuts and fruit-and-nut blends. “As busy shoppers pay closer attention to nutrition facts, portability and portion control have also become purchase decision drivers.”
“The trend in more frequent eating throughout the day and snacking occurrences versus singular meals has resulted in consumers considering snack nuts as a meal replacement,” adds Justin Havlick, president of Thanasi Foods, LLC, Boulder, Colo.
“People are more aware of the health properties of nuts, so nuts are becoming more of a primary ingredient in the meal, instead of just an accent,” says Sara Tidhar, founder and owner of Santé Specialty Foods, Santa Clara, Calif., which produces a variety of snack nuts, including almonds, cashews, pecans and pistachios. “People also are eating nuts for breakfast and using them as a focal point in their cooking, as well as seeking these products out as a go-to snack.”
Nuts possess a variety of other healthy attributes, such as protein, high levels of antioxidants, vitamin E, Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber. Research indicates that certain nuts may also help improve heart health, fight diabetes and cancer and increase cognitive and neurological functions. “A few years ago, everyone thought almonds were the healthiest nuts, but it turns out that pecans possess more of the antioxidants than any other nut, according to a recent University of Georgia study,” Tidhar says.
With the revised dietary guidelines, plus an increasing emphasis on natural sources of nutritive density and concentrated energy, Australian nut producer Duck Creek Macadamias, Newrybar, New South Wales, anticipates a growing demand for its native Australian macadamia nuts. “With this acceptance of macadamia nuts as a true health food, we are expanding our global portfolio to increase further possibilities,” says Lauren Busse, the company’s publicist.
Duck Creek Macadamia offers both savory and sweet flavors for its nut lines. According to Busse, the company’s most popular products are Mombassa BBQ macadamias and Fantasies, honey-dipped macadamias covered in dark, milk and white chocolate. “While our savory flavors are in high demand for cooking purposes, as well as dietary, the sweet flavors are becoming increasingly popular in the gift market and as a healthier treat alternative,” she says. “We also have several other savory flavors, including Hot Chilli, Wasabi and Abalone. Other sweet flavors include honey-roasted, white pearls [and] mocha, ginger-, rose-, orange- or mint-flavored Obsessions.”
The current health food movement has also played a huge role in the gradual transition of nut products from an impulse buy to a necessity. “Granted, our products are not low-calorie or sugar-free, but our ingredients are all-natural and gluten-free, with zero trans-fat and no cholesterol,” says Bobby Esckelson, who heads marketing for Flint, Mich.-based Jonny Almond Nut Co. “For those who restrict themselves to such foods, our products have become an essential alternative to the usual candy selection.”
Super seeds make a super splash
The healthy eating trend has also positively impacted the seed segment. “A big buzz is happening with better protein snacks, such as nuts, almonds, pistachio nuts and sunflower seeds,” says Havlick, whose company produces BIGS Sunflower Seeds. “We’re seeing healthy, single-digit growth.”
Also high in protein are pumpkin seeds. With 18 g. of protein and 20% of the daily requirement of iron, zinc and copper, they are among the most nutritious seeds in the sector.
“Many people think pumpkin seeds taste like pumpkin, but the flavor is more like a pistachio,” says Kathie Pelliccio, owner of SuperSeedz, Branford, Conn. “Sunflower seeds have more recognition, [and] many consumers don’t know how to cook or utilize pumpkin seeds.” SuperSeedz produces its pumpkin seed lines in small batches, which are automatically packaged, and uses gluten-free flavors.
One of the challenges of selling nuts and seeds is marketing their health benefits, while adhering to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules and requirements. It’s up to manufacturers to have a clear understanding of how to best accomplish this with their lines.
“This is a big part of the strategy of reclaiming consumers from the chip aisle—letting [consumers] know we’re a healthier option,” says Sanjiv Patel, president of Holy Cow, LLC, the Irving, Texas-based producer of Lord Nut Levington flavored snack nuts. “There is an opportunity for smaller companies to extend our set, so the big guys don’t dominate the shelves.”
Another challenge for snack nut and seed producers is rising and falling raw ingredient prices due to fluctuating availability resulting from adverse growing conditions, pests, disease, growing consumer demand and other factors. For example, despite four consecutive record-breaking crops, the U.S. almond industry is barely keeping up with demand for its product. “It’s a challenge to maintain quality and that translates to charging a premium price for our product,” Tidhar says.
According to Havlick, rising raw material costs prompted Thanasi’s to downsize its packaging from 2 and 4 oz. to 1 oz.
Diving into flavor
Like many of today’s snack products, snack nuts, seeds and mixes come in more flavors—particularly hot and spicy varieties—than ever before. “The days of just salted seeds and nuts are diminishing,” Havlick says. “The amount of opportunities and expansion of the category due to flavor innovations is really relevant. It’s about satisfying consumers accustomed to the flavors of a full-blown meal.”
Thanasi Foods offers its BIGS Sunflower Seeds in a variety of popular co-branded flavors, including Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wing, Bacon Salt Sizzin’ Bacon and Hidden Valley Ranch.
Santé Specialty Foods offers a wide range of flavors, too, from savory to spicy to sweet, but sweet is by far the company’s most popular. “Sugar has gotten a bad rap in the press lately, but people still love a good, candied pecan,” Tidhar says. “However, customers don’t want it tooth-achingly sweet. There needs to be balancing component, such as a touch of salt and savory, to keep every bite in harmony.”
In the last year, Jonny Almond Nut Co. has experienced a big increase in wholesale demand for its candy-coated nuts. “For an item that has long been associated with fairs and sporting events, the convenience of finding these treats in the local supermarket, gas station or grocery store at a low [price point] has created a widespread and growing customer base,” says Esckelson. Among the company’s best-sellers are The Original Cinnamon Almond, Mr. Honeysalt cashews and P-Nut Brittle peanuts.
Holy Cow is looking to add new flavors to its peanut line. The company currently offers 8-oz. containers of Rebel Mary, El Cheddarales, Mamma Mia, Thai Dyed, Cinnapplooza and Sweet Miss Keet. It recently launched a 1-oz., single-serve bag of its Rebel Mary flavor. “Portion control is still a big part of the nut category,” Patel says. “This snack isn’t something that should be eaten in excess, but is a convenient grab-and-go food.”
Snack mixes also are trending toward both sweet-and-savory combinations. Sahale Snacks focuses on a crunchy, salty-sweet balance through the use of natural sea salt and spice blends, preservative-free dried fruits and lightly sweet glazes. “It’s been a winning combination for us, and we’ll continue to develop products using those complementary flavor profiles,” Cottrell says. “We’re seeing a growing demand for innovative flavor profiles, and people are craving and seeking out global flavor combinations in every day snacks, but they want it in conjunction with healthy options.”
What’s on tap?
There have been a number of product introductions in the snack nuts, seeds and mix segments. Santé Specialty Foods is currently working on a new pecan, incorporating spices that has health properties.
In the last year, SuperSeedz has expanded its line to include Cocoa Joe, Tomato Italiano, Super Spicy and Really Naked pumpkin seed varieties. Sea Salt is its best-seller. “We’ve introduced SuperSeedz Shakers, which is a new way to dispense product, as well as a new 1-oz. grab-and-go bag, which is great for trial,” Pelliccio says.
Duck Creek Macadamias has launched several new gourmet macadamia products in the past year, including the new Obsessions Chocolate Box, which contains orange-, mocha- and ginger-flavored macadamias dusted in Belgium cocoa.
Thanasi Foods has seen explosive growth with its BIGS Sunflower Seeds and, as a result, has expanded its flavor offerings to include Heinz Salt & Vinegar and Old Bay Catch of the Day brand. “Consumers are responding to flavorful foods well,” Havlick says. “There are fewer innovations from existing brands and more innovations from newer brands that are taking some of the category share.”
Despite the increasing number of new entrants in the sunflower seed category, Thanasi Foods’ BIGS brand has been growing in excess of 60% year over year. “The opportunity is there for innovation, since there is a strong point of difference and value products,” Havlick says, adding that the company plans to unveil a new innovation later this year in the nuts and seed category.
Sahale Snacks, meanwhile, is focused on its newly-launched Premium Blends and 1.5-oz. Grab & Go snacks.
There’s no end to the flavors and healthful ingredients that will propel the profitability of snack nuts, seeds and mixes going forward. “We’re all looking for ways to innovate,” maintains Patel. “We’re all vying for the same mouthful to compete with the chip segment, and we need to reclaim our territory.”