Dried fruits and nuts are convenient meal additions, with nuts getting bigger play as a protein source, but that’s only part of the story.
Originally printed in the February 2022 issue of Produce Business.
With many consumers re-evaluating what they eat, the opportunity exists to extend dried fruit and nut promotion beyond holidays, when the category gets special attention, and push meal ingredient and healthy snacking sales with conspicuous merchandising and presentation.
It doesn’t have to be flashy, but giving consumers more reasons to purchase dried fruit and nuts in the produce department on a regular basis can potentially generate sales without much more effort than momentum.
The consumer is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with a greater appreciation of wellness, not to mention enhanced cooking skills, so a little urging could have positive results.
“Consumers shop for fresh produce and have been adding dried fruit and nut options to their weekly purchases in increasing numbers,” says Sue Elton, Northeast regional sales manager, Hampton Farms, a family-owned peanut supplier since 1917, based in Severn, NC.
The trend could be especially helpful for produce departments. Dried fruits and nuts as merchandised in the produce section can benefit from a halo effect that the department provides. With more raw product and a separation from less beneficial snacks such as potato chips, dried fruit and nuts merchandising in the produce department can credibly emphasize the products as an alternative with wellness benefits.
Dublin, Ireland-based Research & Markets expects the global nuts and nutmeals market to register a 5.9% compound annual growth rate from 2021 to 2026. Healthy snacking, with some emphasis on organics, along with convenience and taste, is driving the demand for nut products among health-conscious consumers, the market research firm notes.
Organic nuts cultivated in certified organic environments are also proving more popular, R&M indicates.
Research & Markets points out that North America accounts for a significant share in the global market for nut products, owing to the rising demand and consumption, and the high disposable income of the consumers in the region. Nuts, including almonds and peanuts, have gained an excellent reputation as healthy snacking alternatives with diabetic-friendly attributes, Research & Markets emphasizes, such as comparatively low-fat content and healthy omega-3 fats. Also, rising raw nuts and nutmeals use in cooking and blended savories such as trail mixes have attracted a large number of health-conscious North American consumers.
Taking a somewhat broader view, the report Savory Snack Products Market, published by Northbook, IL-based research firm MarketsandMarkets, identifies nuts and seeds as sales drivers going forward. The research firm estimated the global savory snack market at $203.9 billion in 2022 and sees it reaching $263 billion by 2027, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2%. The market is driven by shifting consumer preferences towards convenience food or on-the-go meals owing to increasing hectic lifestyles, it says.
Demand has sparked recent innovations in several healthy snack segments, and that should add momentum to drive the growth for nuts and seeds, MarketsandMarkets reports. Although the plain, unflavored segment is a major element of the savory snack market, the research firm says emerging flavors and ingredients are attractive to consumers looking for functionally forward food that helps them achieve their overall health and wellness goals.
Dan Wodzenski, head of operations and merchandising, at Brooklyn Harvest, points out that the newest store under the banner, the fifth located in Williamsburg, does a big business in nuts and store-ground nut butters, for a young customer base that includes a high proportion of vegetarians, vegans and shoppers reducing meat and dairy intakes, and looking for protein substitutes.
At a Super Foodtown location in Washington Heights in Manhattan, NY, where he holds the same position, the hipster customer is less prevalent, yet he sells even more nuts there, without any obvious demographic demand. However, the store is near the vast New York Presbyterian Hospital complex, and the store gets a big lunchtime boost from employees there.
“Nuts is a very strong category and not seasonal at all — 365 days a year it penetrates at a very high level,” Wodzenski says.
Some supporting evidence can be found not too far away. On Long Island, Ralph Rotten’s Great American Candy Shoppe, Commack, NY, a specialty nuts and candy retailer, has traditionally done a big business with the nearby Stony Brook University Hospital, says Sally Speciale, the store’s owner.
Still, selling healthy can be a bit tricky. Speciale says she constantly gets requests for salt-free peanuts, but then actual sales fall short. People usually ask for salt-free peanuts, but the product sells slowly because many people just don’t enjoy the plain style despite the fact that it’s a better nutritional choice.
Flavor makes a difference, says Tess Mercado, founder and principal of Nutridge Farms, Chino, CA, who uses flavors like pumpkin spice to buoy the taste of her flavored nut products.
“I think people are basically looking for less salt and sugar, and what they like about my products is they are mostly low salt and low sugar, and still taste good. My products don’t hide the flavor,” she says.
Mercado develops Nutridge Farms products based on her own stringent taste requirements. They are premium products and priced like it, but she has grown her business based on the idea that consumers will pay for rich, satisfying products.
“I’m not going to be able to compete on price, but if you have a good product, even if a little higher priced, people are going to go for flavor,” she says. “If it doesn’t taste right, if it doesn’t excite me, it’s a no go.”
Not every product Nutridge Farms offers is low salt/sodium. Mercado recently developed a product using a Mexican-favorite flavoring, chamoy, that doesn’t fall under that umbrella. Still, the fact that the company offers better-for-you products positions it to address the full range of the developing market. Indeed, Mercado says, she’s in the process of developing vegan products to meet their protein needs while still providing a satisfying eating experience.
SPRING & FALL SELLING
Even though the marketplace is changing, maximizing an opportunity requires a bit of strategic thinking.
“Secondary displays can be created for Easter baking that include items such as figs, dates, pecans and walnuts,” Hampton Farms’ Elton says. “Table displays located within the produce department, partnered with traditional baking sets, spark add-on purchases as well as consumer creativity.”
Then, consumers enjoying more healthy outdoor activities are a prime market for healthy snacks.
“Moving into warmer weather and outside activities in the springtime, consumers look for healthy, sustainable snacking options for their families for hiking, the beach and family gatherings,” she says. “Trail mixes, dried fruit and nut items are tremendous options for these outside activities.”
A year-round attitude can help keep dried fruit and nut sales rolling through summer into football, then the holiday season.
“The fall has historically proven to be the highest volume quarter for the dried fruit and nut category,” Elton says, explaining that baking nuts and dried fruits, and snacking items are the primary source of the increase.
“Walnuts and pecans for cookies and pies have proven to be top-selling items. Incorporating cranberries, apricots and cherries for add-on sales during this period will generate interest and add-on purchases,” Elton adds. “Creative displays spark add-on sales and increased store revenue and enhance consumers’ overall shopping experience.”