KEY INTERVIEW: Almond Board of California Says, “We Want Our Consumers to be More Savvy Snackers”

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21 Nov 2016 --- Almonds are the number one nut in new introductions in Europe, as reported by FoodIngredientsFirst on 11th Nov, with a 48% regional share and a new record high of 42% globally. Germany, UK and France follow the US as the top leading countries introducing new almond products. With 4,313 new almond products, Europe saw a double-digit growth of 16% increase in 2015. 

This is the first time almonds have taken the top spot in Europe with the lead being particularly driven by increased consumer demand in the snacks and bars sectors as well as growing interest in lactose-free and gluten-free - the leading health claim in UK almond introductions. Almonds fit a lot of new trends and the demand for almonds can also be attributed to their role as natural, nutrient-rich ingredients with appealing taste and crunch and extensive versatility as well as their consistently safe, stable supply. 

FoodIngredientsFirst caught up with Richard Waycott (pictured above), CEO of the Almond Board of California, who discussed the current market trends for almonds. “Having been with the Almond Board for the past fourteen years, I have seen many different new areas of innovation and market opportunities, some of which can be quite challenging for us,” says Waycott.  

“Consumer demand is strong and growing globally and our shipments are quite diversified, with the European Region and Asia being the two largest markets outside of the U.S. On the agricultural and environmental side, we are investing heavily in ensuring that we are sustainable and that almonds are the preferred crop in California for this century,” he notes. 

The Almond Board of California is aiming to educate their consumers about the nutritional benefits of almonds. “Everything that we do at the Almond Board has a long term view for our industry, certainly for our consumers,” claims Waycott. They have been monitoring trends “very closely”, and have been pleasantly surprised by many of the findings. 

Dariela Roffe-Rackind (pictured), Director for Europe for the Almond Board of California told FoodIngredientsFirst: “As part Click to Enlargeof our consumer attitude, awareness and usage study, we have seen quite a dramatic increase in what we call top of mind awareness, so consumers are thinking about almonds more than they were before.” 

“I believe it has come from this general trend of looking for healthy snacks from a convenience standpoint with a need to eat smaller snacks throughout the day,” she explains. “People are looking for more natural, unprocessed snacks, and manufacturers are also looking for products that allow them to have a clear label, and almonds really provide that very nicely both from a consumer demand standpoint but they also meet that formulation need as well.”

“Snacking is our biggest area of focus from a trends perspective,” claims Roffe-Rackind, “The ever-expanding body of almond nutrition research totals more than 125 scientific publications to date, and this scientific evidence helps us communicate that clear message around nutrition and the benefits almonds provide to human health.” 

There are of course different opportunities across different parts of the world, Europe is the largest export region for California almonds where they are used as an ingredient in various forms, and consumption of almonds as a snack is growing. According to the Almond Board, Europe is a market that has huge potential. “We want our consumers to be more savvy snackers, and eat more almonds on a daily basis,” says Waycott. “We have done snacking studies to understand what is going on in Europe in terms of the snacking needs and we really pride ourselves on being a research based organization.”

Aside from snacking, Waycott notes that there has been some interesting progress within the non-dairy beverages category too. “I do think that (almond) beverages are a category that has established itself well,” he says. “In the US, almonds have been noted as the fastest growing beverage item for the past two or three years, the consumer now has a lot more alternatives and choice in the dairy space, compared to what they had before”.

The movement of many consumers following a non-animal protein diet, the rise of flexitarians and vegans for example, has set the trend of non-dairy beverages and according to the Almond Board, it is here to stay. “The growing knowledge of almonds is helping with other categories,” says Roffe-Rackind. “One exciting thing with almond milk is that it’s now being looked at as an interesting ingredient with other products, so we are seeing almond milk now developing into ingredients for dairy free cheeses and yogurt. We’ve also seen an interesting chocolate line that includes almond milk, a potential for vegan chocolate, so it’s opening up new product development areas that we haven’t seen before,” she states. 

“We have recently been visiting chocolate manufacturers across Europe to discover what almonds can bring to a product application and what we have found is sort of legendary – almonds are an excellent ingredient or as a snack on its own, which our consumers really delight in. So we have that nexus of being a tasty product that people like and you gain health benefits at the same time,” Roffe-Rackind adds. 

Waycott expresses the objective to contribute to the development and improvement of the human diet through the consumption of more almonds. “By investing in research, our expertise, knowledge and financial funding allow us to educate consumers and health professionals alike. We feel we have a role to play in reducing obesity, to help with diabetes and heart disease and to have a tasty, crunchy and enjoyable product,” he says. 

“We are very fortunate in that we are such a healthy and nutritiously dense product but at the same time consumers love the crunch of almonds and therefore our customer base is expanding too,” Waycott adds. 

“We are very proud of our industry and what we have achieved so far. Recognizing that we are the largest crop in California, we have a very important leadership role when it comes to agriculture and sustainability,” he states. “We are putting significant money into the research that has been undertaken so far, to drive adoption of best practices by our industry as well as new ‘Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) initiatives’ to prioritize and accelerate research and programming in areas related to sustainability.”

“California farms 50 percent of the world’s supply of pistachios, 35 percent of the walnuts and over 80 percent of the almond supply and it’s all irrigated and extremely well managed from an agricultural point of view,” says Waycott.

We are already well equipped and ready to invest where we can in this new world of precision agriculture and doing more with less,” he explains.  

“The future looks bright for the Almond Board,” insists Waycott, “Our yields are relatively high and we further compensate for our finite resources by investing in production efficiencies, I think we are embarking into a whole new era of agriculture in the world and California for sure.” 

by Elizabeth Kenward

Almond Board of California

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When you use almonds in your formulations, you’re not only adding great taste and nutrients; you’re adding a versatile ingredient that consumers demand. Almonds bring the perfect balance to any product, and people are eating them right up. In fact, since 2006, almonds have been the number one nut used in global new product introductions.* So go ahead and serve up some extra appeal with your next product, just make sure almonds are in.
 

*Innova Market Insights, Global New Products Report, 2011.

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