Striking the right balance between indulgence and better-for-you is important in winning over the consumer. The pandemic has heightened consumers’ interest in health and well-being.

Laura Gerhard, global ingredients division vice president, Blue Diamond Growers, Sacramento, CA, notes a growing preference with clean label and natural foods. “According to Innova Market Insights, 60 percent of consumers prefer products that are described as having no artificial ingredients or no preservatives. The growing preference for a clean label is one of the most influential trends shaping snack and bakery product development today. According to data from the International Food Information Council, 60 percent of consumers say they purchase clean-label foods and beverages, and 40 percent of consumers consider themselves to be ‘clean eaters.’”

Add on the power of plant-based food/ingredients and these trends are driving innovation with nuts, fruits, and other healthy ingredients. Inclusions such as nuts, fruits, and chocolate can add another dimension of taste, texture, and nutrition to snack and bakery products without compromising on the taste.


Delicious and nutritious

“Nuts are a classic inclusion, and—to this day—they continue to be used in some of the most common snacking and bakery products because they offer the ideal combinations of texture, nutrition, and taste; providing protein and fiber for the health-conscious consumer. In fact, the drive towards healthier choices in food and beverages has become so strong that it even affects what consumers look for in indulgent products. Snacks and baked goods fall easily into this category. In 2020 we saw consumers seek comfort and nostalgia, looking to evoke a warm fuzzy feeling with the products they ate. However, against the backdrop of a global health crisis, consumers placed increasing focus on their health and wellness,” states Paras Goyal, vice president, nuts manufacturing and innovation, Olam Food Ingredients, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The company’s latest offering is nut protein powders and blends which include almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia and pistachios. “These nut protein powders offer higher amounts of protein and a lower fat content—ideal for use in products such as mixed-nut cookies, where the cashew and almond protein powder can be combined to create a gluten-free product that is high in protein with a clean taste. These protein powders can also be used to create high protein, gluten-free snacks that are both nutritious and boast the health benefits commonly associated with nuts for wellness-conscious consumers,” notes Goyal.

Nut spreads and pastes can be used as-is or combined with a range of ingredients to create different sweet and savory spreads. “One example is nut center-filled cookies where nut pastes such as cashew or almond can be used as a healthy but indulgent filler. Hazelnut or cashew pastes can also be combined with cocoa powder to create hazelnut chocolate or cashew chocolate filled cookies,” explains Goyal.

Nuts have always been a popular component of trail mixes. To elevate the flavor experience Goyal recommends utilizing spices such as chili, cinnamon, turmeric, and pepper to reimagine traditional flavor and create new recipes for adventurous tastes. For example coating raw cashews in a sweet and spicy glaze such as honey and chili can “tickle the taste buds” with sweet heat when added to a trail mix.

Blue Diamond offers a wide variety of almond-based products including whole, diced, sliced, slivered, almond butter, almond flour, and almond protein powder. While not only delivering in taste and texture versatile almonds are clean-label, all-natural, plant-based, gluten-free, and a nutrient dense ingredient. Two of the more recent additions are almond flour and almond protein powder.

“Almond flour is finely ground to be used in traditional recipes without altering the taste or texture. Almond flour is a great gluten-free and keto alternative that offers a smooth mouthfeel and rich, buttery flavor to applications. It adds all of the great health benefits from whole almonds, and is high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats. It is predominantly used in baking applications such as brownies, dough, and cookies. Almond Protein (made from partially defatted almond flour) is an ideal inclusion in health and wellness supplements and protein bars due to its simple taste, smooth mouthfeel, and abundant health benefits,” explains Gerhard.

Almonds in their more traditional form can be great additions to breakfast bars, nutrition bars, cookies or baked goods and dry roasted almonds can add a crunch factor and elevated visual appeal to snack bars and mixes.

Flavorful fruits

Holly Adrian, senior marketing manager, Sensient Natural Ingredients, Turlock, CA, notes that we are a nation of snackers, and the post-COVID snacker is more health-conscious than ever.

“The inclusion of vegetables increases the products perceived nutritional value, creating a healthful halo, but consumers won’t compromise on taste,” she says.

The company recently launched their latest line of fire-roasted peppers, onion, garlic, and chiles. “These ingredients are roasted in small batches, over an open flame, so the subtle complexities of roasted notes are a result of the process and not added flavors. In addition to bold, unique flavors, fire-roasted vegetables have an appetizing color and light char markings from natural flame roasting. The process itself brings out more complex, cooked notes of the vegetable. For example, the process increases the sweetness of the red bell pepper or tomato, and the deep, earthiness of the spicy jalapeno. The ingredients can be used as is as a dried inclusion or seasoning blend, or re-hydrated to its original texture for use as a topping,” shares Adrian. Additional uses for these new ingredients include breads, rolls, pizza crust, crackers and chips—mixed into hummus, dips, or used as a topical seasoning for everything from bagels to popcorn.

Paradise Fruits by Jahncke, Drochtersen, Germany, recently introduced a new division called Paradise Fruits Health. This new division focuses on the development of innovative inclusions and stand-alone snacks that can be fortified with vitamins, minerals, or extracts that can help enhance the wellbeing of consumers.

“Through Paradise Fruits Health we have developed a range of fruit Shapes designed to be consumed as a stand-alone snack (note the company is in development for other inclusion style formats) to provide food supplements carried by a plant-based matrix that can be called almost functional confectionary. The recipe contains a higher fruit content than many other similar products available on the market and can be fortified with vitamins and minerals as well as other ingredients such as caffeine, creatine or extracts,” shares Bodo Mittman, chief sales officer, Paradise Fruits Solutions and Paradise Fruits Health, Paradise Fruits by Jahncke. The product is available in fruit and vegetable flavoring combinations and are free from artificial colors and preservatives, gluten-free, allergen-free, and are available in palm-oil-free, halal, or kosher-certified varieties.

The company has also launched innovative nut-flavored, allergen free granulates. While nuts are a common inclusion, nuts are also one of the foods that contribute to food allergies. The company created this new product to enable consumers that have nut allergies to still be able to enjoy an allergen-free product that delivers an authentic nutty taste in a variety of snack and bakery applications. There are also benefits to the manufacturer—not only can they include nut-free inclusions in the product, but this ingredient is made in a nut-free environment as well. The company recently added a line of high brix paste to the line. The high brix paste is available in a variety of flavors including peanut, peanut caramel, walnut, hazelnut, pecan, pistachio, almond, and peanut-chocolate. These granulates and paste can be used in a wide variety of snack and bakery applications including toppings, fillings, inclusions in cookies, muffins, cereal bars, pastries, confectionary, and chocolate.


Chocolate forever

Cargill, Minneapolis, offers an extensive portfolio of chocolate and compound inclusions, including chips, chunks and pieces that are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. These inclusions can be used in a wide variety of snack and bakery applications including cookies, muffins, cakes, granola bars, and trail mixes, to name a few.

“Inclusions can have a huge influence on how consumers perceive a baked treat. Irregular cut chunks imply an artisan’s touch, while a classic morsel offers more traditional, familiar appeal. Protein or fiber fortified compound inclusions can up the better-for-you position further, combining chocolatey indulgence with the nutritional benefits many consumers actively seek,” states Gretchen Hadden, marketing manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. As a side note, the company has had success with adding fiber or protein levels of up to 20 g / 100 grams of compound.

As previously noted, success in today’s snack and bakery marketplace requires the right balance between indulgence and better-for-you.

“Chocolate will forever remain a much-sought ingredient for these applications. According to our recent ChocoLogic Consumer Survey, 52 percent of respondents said they prefer dark chocolate because they believe it to be a healthier chocolate option. Semi-sweet chocolate, often referred to in market as dark chocolate, requires a minimum of 35 percent chocolate liquor, whereas milk chocolate only requires a minimum of 10 percent chocolate liquor. By default, dark chocolate often has higher liquor content and lower sugar content. Generally speaking, the higher the cacao content, the lower the sugar content, which may be a contributing factor for those looking for permission to indulge,” explains Hadden.

Not only do ingredients like nuts, fruits, vegetables, and chocolate deliver taste, texture, and nutrition, but these inclusions can help manufacturers strike the right balance between indulgence and better-for-you snack and bakery products.