Nuts and seeds are growing in popularity due to an increase in healthy snacking and consumer interest in plant-based products. According to Innova Market Insights, 7 in 10 U.S. consumers sought healthier snacking options in 2018.

“These newly emerging trends and interest in plant-based products are drawing focus on nuts and seeds in snacks, bringing them more than a nutritional edge. Their focus as protein-packed has always been known, but now the brands are using seeds, nuts and other inclusions to bring a textural and flavorful element into their snack products,” says Keera Perumbala, marketing associate, sweet and beverage flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, IL.

Nuts, seeds and other inclusions offer the perfect trifecta of taste, texture and nutrition. Many provide protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals.

With these trends projected to continue to rise, nuts and seeds are well positioned for ongoing growth.


Tasty and nutritious nuts

Walnuts are an example of a tree nut that is both delicious and nutritious. In fact, based on the “California Walnuts Attitude and Usage Study” conducted in 2017, 92 percent of consumers recognize walnuts as a “nutritious” food and 78 percent of consumers cited taste as the No. 1 reason they consume walnuts.

According to Jennifer Williams, marketing director, domestic advertising, California Walnut Board and Commission, Folsom, CA: “Walnuts are a powerhouse of important nutrients for optimum health. They are a versatile, plant-based, whole food, and the only tree nut with a significant source of alpha linolenic acid—the plant-based form of omega-3s—at 2.5 grams per ounce.” She notes that 1 ounce of walnuts also offers 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and is a good source of magnesium and phosphorous.

“Seasoned walnuts have exploded in popularity among consumers, and snack food manufacturers have responded by launching new products with a host of seasonings ranging from rosemary to espresso,” says Williams. “From an eating experience, the shape and texture of walnuts make them the perfect delivery tool for a seasoning. Walnuts have the perfect bite and are not too hard or too soft. They also have a subtle, nutty flavor that works well in both sweet and savory applications.” These seasoned walnuts are being used in traditional bakery and snacking applications, such as cookies and trail mixes.

Almonds are also finding favor. Nearly one in two North American product introductions with nuts contain almonds, and confectionary, snacks and bars are the top 3 categories for new almond product introductions according to recent research commissioned by the Almond Board of California and conducted by Innova Market Insights.

“Consumers are embracing healthier lifestyles to support their well-being and increasingly seeking out plant-based and free-from ingredients that support a more-individualized approach to meeting their personal well-being goals. Snack and bakery manufacturers can target this increasing market segment by using versatile and nutritious ingredients like almonds, which are plant-based, free from gluten or dairy, and available in a range of forms including almond flour, almond butter or sliced whole natural almonds,” shares Harbinder Maan, associate director, trade marketing and stewardship, Almond Board of California, Modesto, CA. Almond and almond ingredients can be used in a variety of snacks and baked goods, including cookies, bars and trail mixes.


Inclusion diversity

Kerry offers roasted soy nuts as part of its portfolio—either roasted halves or in a variety of different dice sizes—available in either non-GMO or organic formats. “They are a great-tasting, cost-effective way to add protein and texture to baked products like breads and muffins. They can also be used as an inclusion in snack bars. There’s also an added benefit of clean label with a single ingredient declaration (soybeans),” shares Jodie Kenny, business development director, sweet and cereal, Kerry, Beloit, WI. The ingredients can also be seasoned to add another layer of flavor.

Kerry continues to strive to reinvent and refresh its ingredients based on evolving consumer trends. One example is its granola clusters, which can be used for snacking. “Piece size can be controlled to be relevant in various applications, from inclusions in a snack mix to a stand-alone snack. We can use fruits, nuts and protein to provide a great texture, taste and a better-for-you product,” notes Kenny.

Kerry has the capability to enrobe nuts in chocolate, delivering a permissible indulgence experience that consumers are seeking. The company has also worked on ready-to-eat cocoa-dusted almonds. “When you enrobe an inclusion, for example, it can become the hero piece in trail mix—the unique piece that would drive a consumer to purchase the product,” says Courtney Schumacher, senior marketing specialist, Kerry. Keeping the ingredients clean-label and using trending flavor profiles, such as smoke, can also take products to new heights, she suggests.

Glanbia Nutritionals, Chicago, recently launched its new plant-based nutrition portfolio, as well as several new flavor innovations. “Our plant-based nutrition portfolio allows manufacturers to easily incorporate plant-based ingredients into their products. Our portfolio provides excellent solutions for bars, granola, cookies, cereals and snack foods. Specifically, our Snack Solutions incorporate Glanbia’s MicroSure Plus heat treatment to ensure these ingredients are safe for ready-to-eat foods, and our Cuisine Solutions are designed to enhance texture and improve the nutritional value of bakery and prepared foods,” states Connie Siu, senior marketing specialist.

Siu highlights these new ingredients and their corresponding features:

  • SnackFlax. These solutions provide excellent nutrition and texture with a balance of ALA omega-3, fiber, protein and flavor. MeadowPure sorting and selection systems ensure SnackFlax ingredients have a guaranteed shelf life of two years. SnackFlax are minimally processed, free of chemicals and easy to incorporate into a variety of bars and snacks.
  • SnackChia. These ingredients provide great texture and offer an excellent source of fiber, protein, calcium and vegetarian ALA omega-3. The SnackChia line is minimally processed and free of chemicals, allergens and gluten, and is an excellent solution for bars and various snacks.
  • CuisineChia. These clean-label ingredients, which are minimally processed and free of chemicals, allergens and gluten, are designed for use in breads and various baked snacks.
  • FlavorSpecks and ColorSpecks. These naturally flavored and colored, fruit-based inclusions add flavor and color to bar coatings, frosting and topical snack applications, including for cookies or crisped rice treats.
  • XtraPro Seasonings. This solution combines seasoning and protein, increasing protein content in savory and sweet snacks by 3 to 7 grams. Custom flavor profiles are available, or snack producers and bakeries can choose from a wide variety of traditional and trending flavors in both plant-based and dairy-based proteins. XtraPro is designed for coated snacks such as chips, crackers, pretzels or nuts.


Get your fruits and veggies

Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, CA, recently added smoked Green HATCH Chiles to its existing portfolio of HATCH Chile products. This new ingredient adds a flavorful smokiness that contrasts with the chile’s natural sweetness, and is the perfect complement to a broad range of savory applications, including biscuits, artisan breads and savory snacks, notes Harry Park, application technologist.

Park notes that Hatch chiles are trending in the market. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, from 2016–17, there was a 33.5 percent increase in products calling out Hatch chiles. Also, mentions of Hatch chiles on restaurant menus has grown by 97 percent from 2014–18, per Datassential.

“Our HATCH Chile line is known to be versatile. It works well as an inclusion or as a topical seasoning in applications. Typically, for inclusions, HATCH powders, granules and flakes will be incorporated in the batter prior to cooking. As for topical seasonings, such as on nuts, they are typically dusted on after any cooking steps,” shares Claudia Gunawan, application technologist, Sensient Natural Ingredients. Red and green HATCH Chile not only deliver a unique flavor profile, but also provide a nice natural color to bakery and snack applications such as flatbreads and tortillas.

Gunawan also notes a new use for a fairly common ingredient: “Parsley is known for its subtle herb note and bright-green color that is mainly used or seen as garnishes. However, although still uncommon, parsley flakes/powder provide a new twist to the flavor for sweet bakery applications. On top of that, it showcases a natural, vibrant, green color and identifiable pieces. A couple of bakery applications we have seen that can benefit from parsley, both sweet and savory, have been cookies, muffins, bagels, flatbreads and many more.”

Sensient leverages a unique and patented process called Natural Infusion that encapsulates extracts into natural carriers such as nuts and seeds and can add another dimension of flavor. Perumbala explains: “We use our patented Super Critical Infusion technology that uses CO2 to penetrate into the host seed with extracts and essential oils such as lemon or cassia bark. This results in a novel way to present a cleaner, more-natural flavor and improved shelf life of the products.”

Diana Food, Saddle Brook, NJ, reports that it has been seeing increased interest in its 100 percent fruit powders. These products address consumer interest in clean-label and fruit-equivalency claims. The ingredients produced using a roller dryer are available in powder, flake or Crunchie format; spray-dried powders are also available.

Teresa Kilgore, sweet and beverage category manager for North America, Diana Food, explains the difference between the two processes: “The main difference between the two technologies is raw material, dissolvability and dry matter. Spray-dry is always juice-based, roller-dry is always whole-fruit- or purée-based. Spray-dry is fully soluble (instant hydration), whereas roller-dry will turn to purée in water. And probably most importantly, with spray-dry you can only have a maximum of 50 percent dry matter (fruit content), whereas with roller-dry you can go up to 100 percent dry matter (fruit content). Roller-dry products allow for fruit-equivalency claims, since they are based on whole fruits.” The company offers a wide range of fruits, as well as vegetables. These ingredients can be used in bakery mixes, snack bars, chocolate and, on the vegetable side, in crackers, chips and popcorn.


Allergy-conscious options

Inclusion Technologies, Atchison, KS, offers nut-free inclusion solutions for snacks and baked goods. “Everyone is looking for ‘condition-specific’ foods that appeal to a very select consumer base, whether it be vegan, vegetarian or allergen-conscious. We are living in the age of allergenicity—and also of rising consumer awareness and desire for more clean-labeled foods,” notes Dennis Reid, vice president, sales and marketing.

To respond to these trends and consumer demands, Inclusion Technologies will be introducing a new line in the fall called Nadanut Seasons. These 100 percent nut-free inclusions will be available in the following flavors: Salted Caramel, Sour Cream & Onion, Korean BBQ, Honey Chipotle and Wasabi Soy.

The company has also launched Nadanut Pralines, candy-coated versions of its 100 percent nut-free Nadanut snack ingredients. “The Nadanut products are 100 percent nut-free, but deliver the look, taste, texture and crunch of nuts—and with positive nutritional attributes, too. They also cost a lot less than real nuts and offer an economical alternative for the growing ‘nut-free’ community,” notes Reid. These ingredients can be used in trail and snack mixes, among other applications.

Reid notes that Inclusion Technologies is continuing to expand its line of textured vegetable protein with the addition of pea-based textured vegetable protein, available in both bacon and roasted-chicken flavors. The pea-protein TVP options are vegan, kosher and allergy-free, and can deliver a high amount of plant protein per serving.