Almonds add crunch to produce sales.
Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of Produce Business.
No matter how you slice ’em or dice ’em, almonds are sought after as a snack and, more recently, as a salad topper. In fact, almonds are Americans’ favorite snack nut, according to the Almond Board of California’s (ABC) Almond Trends Study 2019, commissioned by Chicago-based Datassential. This same research shows almonds are a favorite ingredient in snack bars.
The biggest drivers of almonds’ hand-to-mouth appeal are that these are ‘natural,’ ‘nutritious,’ ‘good on their own’ and ‘good with other foods,’ based on ABC’s consumer research.
“We have a nut destination in all of our produce departments, with all nut products together and geared toward snacking,” says Randy Bohaty, produce director for B&R Stores, a 20-location chain based in Lincoln, NE, which operates under the Russ’s Markets, Super Saver, Grand Center Apple Market and Allen’s Food Store banners. “Almonds are also in some of the salad topper products we sell, and they’ve done well. We merchandise these next to the croutons.”
Almonds are natural to sell in the produce department.
“Almonds are a fresh, natural ingredient that has so much usage potential, which is why we believe these should have a big role in produce departments. And, the data supports it,” says Kristen Holden, senior brand manager at the Mariani Nut Co., in Winters, CA. “Retailers who have made nuts a priority in their produce department offering can show that the sales from produce have a prominent role in growing the overall category.”
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
California is not only the top U.S. producer of almonds, but supplies nearly 80% of the world with this nut, according to the Modesto, CA-headquartered ABC’s 2022 Almond Almanac.
“Our crop year runs from August 1 to July 31. In 2021-2022, total shipments were 2.6 billion pounds, down from the previous year, but the second largest on record,” says Rick Kushman, manager of media relations and global communications for the ABC.
Despite water challenges, the California almond crop growth trend remains positive, according to Mariani’s Holden. “Availability is there to support promotions or other retail programs that could increase consumption, as almonds are a good value to the consumer.”
Almonds, as well as other nuts from California, have dropped in cost, adds Stephanie Blackwell, founder and CEO of Aurora Products, in Orange, CT. “Farmers are anxious to get rid of their stock, and it is now difficult for them to make money. Although transportation to the East Coast is more expensive, the less expensive products counterbalance the cost. Unfortunately, a lot of distributors and manufacturers are still on their old contracts and have to use up their commitment before delving into the less expensive almonds.”
As for overall almond demand, there was some softening, which was likely related to coming off pandemic years and general economic concerns from consumers, says Mariani’s Holden.
“That being said, we have sales data start to turn more positive starting in the latter half of 2022 and early 2023. Plus, we’re still seeing growth in value-added almonds in produce. Specifically, we see consumers still looking for new flavors and varieties, such as our Marcona almonds.”
BEST-SELLERS AND WHAT’S NEW
The best-seller is raw almonds followed by roasted unsalted, says Aurora Produce’s Blackwell. “People are getting away from salted nuts.”
Mariani’s Holden agrees and adds its top sellers remain natural whole almonds and natural sliced almonds. “In these raw forms, almonds are incredibly versatile, and consumers can consume them in many applications across multiple daily occasions, whether it’s a handful as an on-the-go snack, a topping to your morning oatmeal or yogurt, a crunchy element on your lunch salad, a gluten-free crusting on your dinner protein or even a protein substitute altogether, and ending the day baked into your brownie or cookie.”
Innovation and growth continue to be in the value-added, Holden adds. Mariani is developing more single-serve convenience SKUs in 2023 as well as displays for value-sized packages of the company’s best-selling items for heavy consumers.
For Seattle-headquartered South 40 Snacks, its Crunchy Almond Bar is the newest innovation in the produce department and a response to the clean label movement, with shorter ingredient lists. The bar has only four ingredients: almonds, glucose syrup, sugar and honey, of which nuts represent 65% of the total ingredients. The company’s portfolio also includes hazelnut, cashew, peanut, pistachio and a mixed nut, the latter of which also contains almonds.
“Produce buyers are excited about unique and premium nut offerings at a much more affordable entry price,” says James Swinyard, head of marketing at South 40 Snacks. “Where a bag of almonds can cost $7 or more, our nut bars retail at $2.49 to $2.99, helping drive incremental growth to the produce department and giving produce shoppers a premium grab-and-go almond snack at a not-so-premium price.”
The best-selling almond item for Good Sense Foods is its Salad Pizazz Dried Cranberries & Honey Sliced Almonds topping. The newest item for the New Hope, MN-headquartered maker of healthy snacks and gourmet salad toppings featuring dried fruits, nuts and seeds, is the Salad Pizazz Sea Salt & Pepper Sliced Almonds. The premium almonds are thick-sliced, dry-roasted and seasoned for a flavorful crunch.
“We have tried other innovative flavor profiles, including flaxseed and elderberry sliced almonds, but we have found that the consumer demand is still strongest with the go-to standard flavors that work well with any type of salad or dish,” says Katharine Hawkins, director of marketing and ecommerce.
SELLING AND SELLING MORE
The two keys to register-ringing merchandising and promotion of almonds in the produce department are visibility and versatility.
“Keep products visible to the consumer and easily accessible when they are shopping in produce,” says Good Sense Foods’ Hawkins. “Product packaging is extremely important. For example, we have an attractive stand-up, resealable bag with a clear hero image of the product on the front panel.”
“However, retailers’ displays and merchandising placement are key to increasing sales, as well. We offer a variety of options for displaying our product including cases, floor display shippers and peg holes on top of packaging for overhead racking.”
The best merchandising strategy for its almond bars is through corrugated shippers, on the floor, in the produce aisle, says South 40 Snacks’ Swinyard. “This brings the offering off the shelf and out into space for shoppers to interact with more intimately.”
Grab impulse sales by spotlighting the versatility of almonds and almond products in snacks and meals.
“We feel it is important to provide some visual cues on usage, so we include a salad image and recipe to help guide the consumer,” says Hawkins. “Merchandising our sliced almonds alongside or adjacent to the lettuces and salad makes the shopping experience seamless for the consumer. It’s a natural fit for the consumer to pair fresh lettuce with one of our sliced almond toppers to create a delicious, easy and healthy meal solution.”
Beyond salads, Mariani’s Holden says she’s seen big successes in cross-merchandising programs that tie almonds with other produce items as a seasonal promotional tactic. “Keep them relevant all year long, like promoting with apples in the fall and for baking during the winter holidays.”