By Harry Overly, President and CEO, Flagstone Foods
From delicious plant-based eating on the go to craveable global flavors, consumers’ appetites for distinct varieties of nuts will be taking center stage in 2024. But flavors aren’t the only new twist in snacking nuts; eco-friendly and allergy-inclusive efforts are making headlines as well.
The world goes nuts for nuts
In 2022, the global market size for snacking nuts was estimated at more than $59 billion. By 2032, the market is expected to top more than $101 billion, according to Precedence Research. It’s no surprise given the widespread availability of nuts and their historical significance.
Nuts have been a part of the human diet since our distant ancestors lived in caves. They were used as medicine and widely believed to have a variety of health benefits. Nuts are the subject of countless legends and are imbued with symbolism across centuries. Our love of nuts carries through to today – from grabbing a handful of lightly salted peanuts as a snack to enjoying a better-for-you sweet, glazed treat.
Plant-based with a pop
Snackers have spoken – at least one in five are interested in trying plant-based proteins, according to Mintel.
Meat-free eating is growing, especially with younger consumers. “Nuts have been a vital part of the diet of humans for more than 700,000 years, they’re a reliable source of nourishing plant-based protein,” said Lana Simon, Flagstone Foods SVP of Marketing & Innovation. “When consumers aren’t eating meat, they shouldn’t have to settle for mediocre food.”
Beyond basic nutritional value, at least 59% of consumers say they want snacks that contain additional health benefits such as antioxidants and micronutrients, according to Circana. A variety of tree nuts contain the highest antioxidant content of edible plants and nuts in general are a good source of a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals.
Consumers are looking for flavor
According to Mintel, 67% of the snacking nut consumer audience wants great tasting, flavorful roasted nuts. However, even in the same household, there is a good amount of overlap between consumers who enjoy straightforward nuts or nut mixes and those who are ready to amp up their experience with flavors.
Eighty-three percent of consumers want snacks that have a flavor they prefer, according to Circana, and bold flavors are snacking fan favorites. Look for game day snack swaps with flavors traditionally reserved for sticky coated wings. In 2024, people will be adding some punch to lunch with flavors such as Nashville Hot Honey, Mango Habanero, and Sweet Heat snack mix. Zingy nuts are an easier, more affordable sporting snack.
The household penetration (76% in 2022, according to Circana) of snacking nuts is high. Now brands and retailers are focusing on expanding consumption, and these types of products pop.
Globally inspired flavors are gaining in popularity. Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, have an elevated interest in diverse flavors and ingredients, particularly Asian and Latin cuisines, according to Mintel.
Nuts are the perfect crunchy canvas for adventurous global flavors. Look for Korean BBQ trail mix with spicy sweet gochujang chili glazed cashews, dark chocolate Japanese matcha green tea with earthy green tea-tossed cashews, elote Mexican-style street corn almonds, and Thai Sweet Chili nuts.
Tastes of regional cuisines, such as from southern Mexico as well as the Caribbean, are places (and seasonings) to watch in 2024.
Make snacking count
Trending nut flavors feel indulgent, but consumers want to feel good about making a more wholesome choice. Increasingly, younger people such as Millennials are eating nuts, seeds, and trail mix in the morning, opening up day part innovation opportunities.
Flavors such as tropical Hawaiian trail mix, kettle-glazed candied nuts like cinnamon churro peanuts, and even cinnamon swirl raisin trail mix mimic extravagant flavors, but in a better-for-you form.
Seasoned nuts have, of course, been around for a long time. But now brands and retailers are innovating with unique flavors and formats that are appealing to new consumer segments that allow them to treat themselves in a way that feels much more wholesome.
Better for you, better for the planet
Healthy snacking and snack nuts have a strong future, but in order to remain that way, we recognize we need to offer more inclusive options, as well as make eco-friendly updates to be gentler on the Earth.
Sustainable sourcing practices, such as bee-friendly almonds, allow tree nut crops to grow while nurturing pollinator populations. Additionally, more than 70% of consumers actively choose products based on their sustainable or recyclable packaging options, according to the 2023 Buying Green Report from Trivium Packaging.
Working to balance product protection and greener packaging, recyclable nut packaging film and canisters made with post-consumer recycled content help keep soda and water bottles out of landfills and reduce carbon footprint. Many snack nut packaging options are now recyclable using the store drop-off option while still offering packaging that looks good and performs well.
Many of us are familiar with signs in schools and workplaces declaring, “peanut and tree nut free zone” due to the presence of serious food allergies. A growing aspect of the category are allergen-free snack pack options. With more than 3 million Americans suffering from nut allergies, this is a part of the snack category in general that will continue to grow. When marketed in the correct section along with other allergen-free options, consumers will be delighted to see expanded safer snacking options that include items like dried fruit, pretzels, chocolate drops, or even fun, fizzy candy clusters.
Nutty new year
With increasing interest in plant-based options and consumers willing to mix nuts into every part of their day, the outlook for snacking nuts is impressive. Look for bold flavors with spices and seasonings from across the globe, crossover flavors from other popular snacks like chicken wings, and better-for-you options that still feel decadent.
Add more sustainable packaging options, a lighter eco footprint, and expand your core consumers to include those previously unable to enjoy the snacking nuts category, and 2024 is looking like the year to increase share of shelf for nuts.
Harry Overly is the President & CEO and member of the Board of Directors of Flagstone Foods, the nation’s premier snack nuts, trail mix, and dried fruit retailer-brand supplier. In addition to his responsibilities at Flagstone Foods, Overly serves as the Executive Chairman of the Board at Sun-Maid Growers of California, where he was President & CEO. Overly has also held leadership positions at Deoleo, Treehouse Foods, Kraft Foods, The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co, and BestSweet, Inc.