Nuts are one of the fastest-growing segments in snacks. New snack nuts and trail mixes pair better-for-you ingredients with bold, fun flavors and convenient packages for easy-to-eat products that wake up the taste buds and provide long-lasting energy.

Today’s snack nuts, trail mixes and seeds address many of the same consumer trends that other snack products do. They also come in big, bold flavors—from bacon and hot sauce to dark chocolate and ginger. They come in convenient packages, making them portable. They taste good and are made from healthy ingredients that offer nutritional value.

“Consumers are snacking more frequently and looking for healthy options that meet their needs of great taste, convenience and hunger satisfaction,” says Howie Sher, founder of What-A-Ya Nuts?!, St. Louis. “This trend has helped the snack nuts category become the fastest-growing segment in the snack food industry. Nuts are packed with nutrients and flavor, so more consumers are incorporating them into their diets. The versatility of nuts can be seen as people now add them as toppings to cereals, salads and desserts.”

Snack nuts have many health benefits when eaten as part of a healthy diet, and they are a filling snack, agrees Stan Roberts, president, Wicked Mix, Little Rock, AR. “A consumer can easily carry a product such as Wicked Mix for an on-the-go snack that contains both the health benefit of nuts and a decadent flavor,” he says.

On the shelves for less than a year, Wicked Mix contains pecan halves, cashews, almonds and four other morsels and is available in three flavors: Spicy Original; Chocolate Laced; and Spicy Hot Chipotle.


Keep the flavor

Consumers are definitely interested in bold, unique flavors, experts agree. “In looking at other nut-based snacks, we’ve found some intriguing flavors,” says Roberts. “Our team is experimenting with new flavor combinations. Based on what we have seen competitors do, we have a challenge in front of us to find another unique flavor that intrigues consumers.”

“The consumer is driving our flavor offerings,” says Matt LaNeve, vice president of retail sales, Carolina Nut Co., Henderson, NC. “People have discerning tastes. They want to savor their snacks and experience new flavors. As our world gets smaller, flavor options expand.”

As much as consumers want to eat healthier, they don’t want to sacrifice flavor, according to Erik Havlick, vice president, sales, at Thanasi Foods, Boulder, CO. “We have a vibrant food culture in this country, and consumers want snacking options that go beyond the traditional sweet, savory and spicy boundaries,” he notes. “An example of this is our BIGS Sizzlin’ Bacon Sunflower Seeds and BIGS Seasoned Sunflower Seeds flavored with Old Bay Seasoning.”

Another example would be a snack nut that competes in the snack bar category, he says. “There is tremendous opportunity here. Crossing traditional category boundaries and shaking [things] up when and where consumers interact with nuts and seeds is important for category growth,” Havlick continues. “We often think about segmentation in the form of day parts, but it’s also important to think about ‘need occasions.’ What is the consumer searching for when looking for a snack or protein bar, for example? Is it that they are looking for a bar specifically, or is it that they are searching for a fulfilling snack that delivers satisfaction, flavor, healthfulness and portability? We believe that retailers can benefit by making logical category connections and offering consumers snack choices in areas that are traditionally dedicated to specific formats, such as protein and snack bars.”

Thanasi is offering BIGS Lightly Salted Pumpkin Seeds in and around the produce section as an alternative to the traditional snack aisle, Havlick points out. “Consumers often use pumpkin seeds as toppings for salads, ingredients in mixes, etc., so it makes perfect sense to merchandise them near fresh produce,” he says.

Holy Cow LLC, Dallas, recently introduced a new flavor in its Lord Nut Levington line called Wingman. “This highly seasoned item has the sharpness and bite of a hot buffalo sauce,” explains Sanjiv Patel, president. “As with all of our products, the consumer thinks about the flavor and not the peanut.” Other innovative flavors in the line are Sweet Miss Keet, Rebel Mary, El Cheddarales, Mamma Mia and Thai Dyed.

Germack Pistachio Co., Detroit, has had success incorporating dark chocolate into its snack mixes during the past year. “There’s awareness that dark chocolate is healthy, so consumers are enjoying our trail mixes that combine chocolate, nuts and fruit,” says Frank A. Germack III, co-owner. “This type of snack may take the place of a chocolate bar or power bar.”

Sahale Snacks, Seattle, has outpaced category growth by as much as 10-fold in certain channels with the introduction of innovative flavor combinations, such as chili lime-infused dried mango, and the use of ingredients such as toasted coconut and pomegranate, according to Erika Cottrell, vice president of marketing. Three of the company’s latest offerings are: Berry Macaroon Almond Mix, a combination of lightly toasted coconut, crunchy almonds and cashews, whole blueberries and tangy lemon-infused dried apple; Mango Tango Almond Mix, a salty-spicy combination of whole almonds and peanuts, lime-infused mango and chipotle chili; and Raspberry Crumble Cashew Mix, which combines raspberries, cranberries, banana chips, peanuts and cashews.

Jonny Almond Nut Co., Flint, MI, offers 13 original flavors of snack nuts. While the company hasn’t released any new flavors under its own brand this year, it has produced customized flavors for private-label and bulk sales. According to Avery Brand, sales manager, these creations have included maple pecans, maple bacon pecans, vanilla pomegranate cashews, habanero almonds, ginger peanuts and blueberry almonds.

Fisher Nuts launched several new products in 2013, including Cheddar Crunch Almonds, Oatmeal Trail Mix and a line of Mammoth Pecans, says Howard Brandeisky, senior vice president, global marketing and customer solutions, John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Elgin, IL, which owns the brand. The Cheddar Crunch Almonds tap into consumers’ love of cheddar cheese, one of the top flavors in the salty snack category.

The company also introduced Sweet BBQ Peanuts. “We’ve developed a formulation that provides a great-tasting sweet and tangy barbecue flavor,” Brandeisky says.


Packaging perks

The latest snack nut packaging offers consumers recyclability, portability and ease of use. For example, Carolina Nut Co. is rolling out new packaging with recyclable, resealable bags ranging in size from 2-52 oz. The packaging accommodates eating occasions from lunch boxes to tailgate parties.

Later this summer, What-A-Ya Nuts?! packaging will feature laser scoring for easier package opening and tear control. “Our package design also gives flexibility to retailers and offers multiple ways to merchandise the product in a store,” says Sher. “The bags have a gusseted bottom, so they can stand up on shelves, as well as a hanger hole for hook displays.”

Fisher Nuts recently converted its Almond line of nuts into resealable, standup bags. They provide portability and allow consumers to seal in freshness after opening. “We’re always trying to identify packaging innovations that add value for our retail customers as well as the end consumers of our products,” says Brandeisky.

“Our bags can be resealed, making them a sound snack choice for those with active lifestyles,” says Roberts of Wicked Mix’s 7-oz. standup pouch, which is preprinted. “While we are constantly looking to improve, we feel our current packaging helps set the tone for the premium product the consumer is purchasing. The zipper closure and sturdy bag allow consumers to seal and reseal as often as they want.”

Germack Pistachio Co. recently introduced a grocery tub line within its retail operations, in response to consumer preferences for a reusable package in lieu of a film bag. Germack also unveiled a zipper-topped, standup bag for several of its products (including the new Fit Mix line), which consumers reportedly find user-friendly.

“We’ve found that consumers want packaging that clearly communicates what they can expect inside,” says Sahale Snacks’ Cottrell. “For our latest packaging, we use a photographic technique to create hyper-realistic images that highlight the ingredients and communicate the promise of a premium flavor experience.”

In addition to the visual component, packages that are sized appropriately for a specific snack occasion are high on the list of consumer demands, she adds. “This year, we introduced products in 1.5-oz., single-serve pouches, which are suitable for on-the-go snacking in all snack stashes, and larger resealable 7- to 8-oz. pouches that are intended to last across multiple snack sessions,” she explains.

Jonny Almond Nut Co. offers its “trademark” cone-shaped bags, which make its product recognizable to consumers. “Maybe one day we’ll move to grab-and-go packaging, gusseted bags, pouches, jars and canisters, but for now, the cone-shaped bag works very well for snacking,” says Brand. “Our twist-tied bags allow for consumers to snack at their leisure.”


Best chances for growth

Where are the greatest opportunities for growth in the snack nut category? There is growth opportunity in immediate consumption channels such as movie theaters, entertainment venues, vending machines, convenience stores and university on-campus stores, according to Sher. “Making snack nuts available in places where you typically find potato chips, tortilla chips or popcorn meets consumers’ desire for convenient, healthy snack options,” he says. “In supermarkets, as potato- and corn-based snack food sales continue to decline, snack nut categories will continue to increase their footprint.”

The increased focus on nutrition has translated into evolving snack nut choices for children, says Sara Tidar, owner and founder, Santé Specialty Foods, Santa Clara, CA. “Parents demand healthier snack alternatives for their children as much as for themselves,” she says. “Finding new flavors and presentations that appeal to children represents one of the greatest areas for growth in the snack nut category.”

Looking ahead, the most significant challenge for manufacturers of snack nuts is the sourcing of raw ingredients, Tidar adds. “Lack of crop pollination and diminishing water supplies threaten the availability of almonds, walnuts and pistachios,” she explains. “With prices continuing to rise, the challenge is to provide a quality product at a price point where the consumer can find value.”