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Nuts reinvent themselves as a healthy ingredient

Alimarket Gran Consumo

Nuts have been able to take advantage of their healthy qualities to transform their perception by the consumer, who has now integrated them as a regular product in their shopping basket. Although still also perceived as a snack, the ways in which walnuts, almonds and pistachios are being consumed is multiplying both inside and outside the home, while they are also becoming an ingredient in salads and other dishes.

30 Jun 2020

This increase is represented by the figures: while nut consumption has grown by 50% over the last ten years in large scale distribution, sales have risen by over 94%. This combination of health and convenience has also proven to work during the Covid-19 lockdown, with growth of over 40% compared to the same period in 2019.

And if the growth in terms of the final consumer has been remarkable, their healthy nature has led to the increase in their use as an ingredient by food and beverage manufacturers, who have incorporated them into bars, bakery and pastry products and vegetable alternatives to dairy products.

The perception of nuts by the consumer has been radically transformed in recent years, in which their healthy properties have made them a fundamental ingredient for new lifestyles: they prevent cardiovascular risk, help protect the immune system, are rich in protein, fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, etc. The list of nuts' virtues has expanded their consumption opportunities, which now go from simple snack through to their inclusion as an ingredient in the kitchen.

In fact, one of the main developments in recent years has been the widespread availability of ranges of natural nuts, with individual servings gaining space, allowing this product to be consumed without excess calorific intake. And the next step has been the more widespread introduction of organic products, which unites their healthy nature with respect for sustainability, another important factor for many consumers.

In parallel, there has also been a change in the most common purchase channel. In the last ten years, the modern distribution channels have continued growing to the detriment of the traditional shop. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, supermarkets and hypermarkets account for more than three-quarters of the sales of nuts for domestic consumption. Thus, between 2009 and 2018, sales of nuts in modern distribution outlets grew 50% in volume and 94% in value. In parallel, own-brands gained share exponentially, with a market share of close to 80%.

Nuts have also become one of the winning categories during the weeks of lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. According to Iri data, nut consumption grew over 40% compared to the same period in 2019, with peaks of up to 69% in the first week, when bulk buying of food took place, and 54% at Easter.

Five star products

Although the range of nuts has grown remarkably with the introduction of new species and varieties, the truth is that the bulk of consumption is concentrated around five products: walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios and peanuts (and the packs that combine several of them), with a sixth, cashew nuts, as a rising star, with a growth of 25% in 2019 compared to the previous year.

In recent years, several companies have launched ambitious planting programmes, mainly for almond and walnut trees, to avoid fluctuations in the international prices of these products. Thus, Borges alone has planted more than 1,000 ha of almond trees in Spain and Portugal, with some of this area devoted to organic farming methods; while Almaco del Guadalquivir has 315 ha of walnut trees grown using a sustainable cultivation regime. Likewise, Atitlan and Nutrinveste announced the founding of Nutlaia, with which they want to replicate their experience in olive groves with nuts, from the purchase of agricultural land and the introduction of intensive systems, to planting and subsequent harvesting.

Spain is almost self-sufficient in almonds, where it could satisfy practically 95% of domestic demand, but it produces fewer hazelnuts (80%), pistachios (40%) and walnuts (one third).

And this increase in demand for nuts is a global trend. Not only for direct consumption, but also as an ingredient in other products. In the last year, companies including Nestlé and Mars have launched nut bars on the market as a healthy snack. And nuts play a major role as a source of non-animal protein in the development of plant alternatives, primarily to dairy products.