Healthy snacking is on the up worldwide and dried fruits and nuts are already recognised as a great grazing option for consumers. But how many realised that almonds pack a seriously powerful nutritional punch? Thanks to a number of academic studies in both the USA and the UK, the Almond Board of California is placing a greater emphasis on the nut’s ideal fit for healthy snacking, backed by a promotional drive in the UK this autumn. Produce Business UK finds out more
Awareness and usage statistics show consumers are increasingly valuing the health benefits of almonds, as well as the nut’s taste and sensory properties, says Harbinder Mann, senior marketing manager for Global Trade Stewardship at the Almond Board of California, adding that Europe is the second-largest destination for California almonds behind the domestic market.
“According to a report presented by Innova Market Insight, snacking occasions continue to increase and savoury snack flavours are taking on more global flavours than ever before,” Mann tells Produce Business UK. “Almonds are an ingredient that consumers value – for their nutritional benefits, flavour and texture.”
Positive academic research findings
Thanks to recent research in a number of areas of nutrition, California’s almond board is now increasingly focusing on the nut’s healthy snacking properties in particular, reveals Mann.
“When compared gram for gram, California almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fibre, calcium, Vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin and are among the lowest in calories,” she says, adding that the full results are shown in this tree nut comparison chart.
“Almonds are a natural source of protein and are high in fibre, while being naturally low in sugars. A 30g serving has 13g of good unsaturated fats.”
Helps to control appetite
As well as being packed with nutritional value, a recent 2015 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition has found that a mid-morning snack of almonds can help to control appetite and results in reduced calorie intake during the rest of the day.
“The study suggests that almonds may be an optimal snack by generating satiety, or the inhibition of hunger,” says Mann. “Including almonds in the diet did not increase total daily calorie consumption either.”
According to Mann, this is the first study to examine how people change their eating behaviour in the short term when eating almonds as a mid-morning snack. To that end, the researchers investigated the effects of two different portion sizes of almonds as a mid-morning snack on satiety and energy intake, in comparison to having no snack.
“We expected whole almonds to be a food that provides satiety because they are a natural source of protein and are high in fibre,” comments Sarah Hull, MSc, the lead researcher of the study, which was conducted by Leatherhead Food Research.
“However, it was interesting to see the mid-morning snack provided a long-lasting effect on appetite at dinner-time consumption, and not only at lunchtime.”
High antioxidant levels
Mann adds that the Vitamin E content in almonds also makes the nut an “excellent source” of this antioxidant, which helps fight harmful free radicals that can damage the body’s cells, tissues and even DNA.
With that in mind, she says a study titled ‘Determination of Flavonoids and Phenolics and their Distribution in Almonds’ and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has determined the actual levels of antioxidants in California almonds.
“Researchers found that almonds contain flavonoids and phenolics in their skins, similar to certain fruits and vegetables that are well known for high antioxidant levels,” Mann explains. “The study’s authors concluded that a 30g serving of almonds contains a similar amount of total polyphenols as one cup of green tea or one cup of steamed broccoli.”
Fewer calories than thought
Meanwhile, a separate 2012 study conducted by the USDA revealed that whole almonds provide about 20% fewer calories than originally thought because some of the fat in almonds passes through the gastrointestinal tract without being absorbed.
The finding, released in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a result of the researchers using a new method that measured the energy value of almonds by determining the number of calories that are actually absorbed during digestion.
Resulting data showed a 28g serving of almonds (about 23 almonds) has 129 calories versus the 160 calories currently listed on food package labels in most countries, according to Mann.
“The California almond industry is now working with government agencies to determine what these study results may mean for future consumer education with yet more evidence of the positive health benefits of almonds,” she explains.
More information on the nutritional benefits of almonds are detailed on the Almond Board of California’s website.
Marketing the benefits
In such a crowded marketplace, Mann believes these studied nutritional benefits of almonds can help to differentiate the product for the benefit of consumers, buyers and manufacturers alike.
To spread the message, the Almond Board of California launched on October 5 a new advertising campaign in the UK. The drive focuses on the convenience, nutritional value and low-calorie content of almonds, and points to the fact that almonds are a snack that can easily be enjoyed anywhere.
“We know that consumers can feel guilty about snacking; often feeling like they have made bad choices,” points out Mann. “With our new advertising, we aim to show consumers that almonds, are a convenient, healthy and simple snack to implement into a daily routine – no matter what that day might bring.
“The new advertising campaign is designed to inspire consumers to think ahead about their snacking needs and arm themselves with almonds to keep them on track.”
Advertising includes dedicated digital and print activity, including three, 15-second vignettes that are running exclusively online, plus a series of digital and print banner adverts. The three vignettes feature woman reaching for almonds as the perfect snack to keep them on track as they deal with amusing situations that crop up during a busy day.
The vibrant designs of the digital banner adverts feature positive messaging on almond calories, nutrients and snacking convenience. All advertising assets also feature the tagline ‘Almonds – Snacking Good’.
Healthy snacking on the up
With recent studies finding consumers are increasingly looking for more natural and health-based foods, especially when it comes to their snacks, almonds are well positioned to take their share of the snacking pie.
“Almonds are already appreciated in the UK as well as throughout the world for their taste, texture and increasingly for their nutritional value,” notes Mann. “Leading European countries have also seen solid growth in almond snack sales in terms of volume. According to Almond Board of California EU3 Snack Nut Sales Analysis 2013/14, almond nut sales value in the UK has risen by 23%.
“UK distribution has also increased 11% with a two-year CAGR [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of 20.7%. More specifically, almond snacking introductions in the UK rose by 78% in 2014; accounting for 29% of all snacking nut introductions, according to the Innova Market Research report: ‘2014 NPD trends in Europe’ from February 2015.”
Mann says one major reason for the solid sales performance is attributable to the rise in consumer awareness of the wide range of natural health benefits offered by almonds; thanks to “better for you” reminders on the ingredient labels of confectionery, baked goods and snacks.
Almonds in cooking
Other primary reasons for these positive consumer statistics, she explains, are the versatility and added value of almonds as snacks and inclusions, given that almonds complement a wide array of food flavours and applications, including confectionery, bakery, dairy and prepared foods.
“Available in more forms than any other nut – natural, blanched, whole, sliced, slivered, chopped, diced or ground – almonds are easy to incorporate into a variety of products,” notes Mann. “Almonds remain the number one nut for association with baked goods and number three for association with chocolate and snack bars.”
During the airing of the Great British Bake Off baking challenge on UK television during September-October, premium retailer Waitrose recorded a spike in almond and other nuts sales. Almonds represented as a key ingredient throughout the TV series; featuring in almost every episode.
Waitrose customers “went nuts” for almonds, according to the retailer, with sales increasing by over 76%. But it wasn’t just almonds that were in demand, as the firm recorded a rapid rise in the sales of pine nuts (up by a massive 302%) and Brazil nuts (by 43%) too.
The ever popular UK celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has also been espousing the benefits of eating and cooking with nuts, with a recent feature on his website dedicated to healthy ways to use nuts in breakfasts, smoothies, salads and tarts, among others. A recent post on his blog also explains why nuts are healthy.
As well as seeking healthy ways to snack and add a nutritional punch to a variety of meals and drinks, Mann claims consumers are also demanding more interesting, varied and premium “textural sensations”, which has prompted food manufacturers to continually improve and perfect their product offerings, by adding ingredients like almonds.
“Almonds can be used in many forms – sliced, slivered, diced, meal, flour and milk, or roasted, toasted, blanched and caramelised – this offers a world of sensory possibility,” she explains. “The unique texture benefits provided by almonds make them an excellent option for snack manufacturers, enabling the production of creative, flexible and value-oriented snacking products.”
Mann says this trend has been well reflected in the snack and cereal bar category, which has experienced extremely high new product development growth in 2015, with 39.9% more bars introduced compared with 2013, as reported in the Innova Market Research report ‘2014 NPD trends in Europe’ released in February 2015.
“Of these bars, texture claims such as ‘crunchy’ were seen on 18% of almond introductions, a higher level than seen on bars without almonds, providing the texture sensations consumers are after,” she adds.
Although unable to provide accurate shipments figures for California almond exports to the UK (due to transshipments), the Almond Board of California claims Europe is the second-largest destination for USA almonds behind the domestic market.
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