Almonds have been rated as the number one nut for inclusion in new chocolate products for the seventh year running, says Innova Market Insights.
Demand for chocolate is continuing to rise globally and almonds are the fastest growing nut ingredient. Nuts featured in 36 per cent of the global chocolate product launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2014, and almonds were one of the most popular nut types used; over one-third of chocolate launches contained nuts, equivalent to 13 per cent of chocolate launches overall.
In addition, according to the latest Global Chocolate Consumer Report from Sterling Rice Group, consumers eat chocolate 10 times per month on average, and 70 per cent of consumers globally prefer chocolate that contains nut, believing it makes the chocolate crunchier, more nutritious and more filling.
Of the nut options, almonds have held the top position for inclusion in new products for seven consecutive years, and new almond confectionery increased by 48 per cent from 2009 to 2013. Globally, almonds are rated the best nut for taste, nutrition, crunch and satiety, and respondents are more likely to purchase almonds than any other type of nut.
The recent New Global Chocolate Introductions Study from Innova Market Insights also highlighted that global chocolate almond introductions have increased faster than any other category, at 18 per cent. Ultimately, more than one-third of all new global chocolate introductions include nuts, and about 40 per cent of these include almonds.
Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, says: “Product development is increasingly varied in terms of chocolate and almond combinations, with traditional chocolate coated almond products now featuring a greater use of premium and dark chocolate and, increasingly, additional ingredients, such as coconut and the currently highly fashionable sea salt.”
Premium style gifting and sharing products are also becoming more prominent, featuring both almond assortments and almonds alongside other nuts and chocolates. “Chocolate bars containing almonds are also diversifying, with the growing use of complementary fruits such as blueberry, strawberry and orange in addition to the more traditional cherry and pear. We are also currently seeing a trend to use more unusual ingredients, such as rosemary,” she adds.
Confectionery is the lead category for almond introductions, with a 30 per cent share of global almond introductions in 2013. Nuts are included in more than half of all chocolate products and almonds specifically account for 54 per cent of chocolate and nut products, accounting for 31 per cent of the total market.
Reflecting this, eight of the top 10 global chocolate brands (in terms of retail value) now have almond versions of their products.
The taste of chocolate is affected not only by the choice of milk or dark chocolate, and how it is made, but also by the elements consumed alongside it. Chocolate owes its prized aroma and flavour to a legion of volatile and non-volatile compounds that are inherent in cocoa and formed during the manufacturing process.
The indulgent image of chocolate products with almonds, including traditional chocolate coated almond lines and chocolate blocks and bars, has been boosted with the use of premium dark, milk and white chocolate and additional ingredients, including other nuts and a wide variety of fruit.
A review of new product activity recorded by Innova Market Insights shows that nuts in general and fruit such as raspberries, cranberries and blueberries are all now popular accompaniments to almonds in chocolate confectionery. The use of additional flavourings has also become more popular and diverse, with new dimensions being added with ingredients such as honey, cinnamon, vanilla and even chilli.
Almonds similarly offer a variety of flavours. While they start out delectably sweet right from the tree, they develop a complex signature taste depending on the method of preparation – raw, roasted, toasted, blanched or fried. According to the Global Consumer Chocolate Study, 85 per cent of consumers that chose almonds as a component of their ideal chocolate bar stated that they would pay more for it.
Almonds are a quality ingredient, which arguably add to the allure of the chocolate with a crunch that delivers an element of excitement. There are more forms of almond than any other tree nut, and this versatility adds to the premium qualities that they bring to chocolate. The flavour and texture possibilities provide opportunities to delight consumers with appealing, familiar yet exciting chocolate experiences; from the crunch of a whole almond to the smooth, satisfying experience of eating almond butter.
Even in the market for confectionery, where demand is more about everyday treats, indulgence and impulse purchasing, there is still some interest in health and more than one-fifth of chocolate launches featuring almonds were positioned on a health platform of some kind in 2014. Key areas of interest were in clean label and naturalness, with seven per cent of launches featuring natural or additive and/or preservative free claims rising to more than 12 per cent if organic claims are also included. GMO free claims were also seen on just under three per cent of launches, and fair trade on just over three per cent.
Harbinder Maan, senior marketing manager, Almond Board of California, notes: “Almonds fit in with this clean label trend and 43 per cent of the global snack nut introductions featuring almonds launched from
2009 to 2013 carried a health claim. ‘No additives or preservatives’ wasthe most tracked claim, which was used for 12.1 per cent of global introductions.”
Younger consumers also seek out front of pack ethical claims, for example organic and fair trade. This audience is also more inclined to be adventurous when trying new flavour combinations and textures, where multiple inclusions appear in the chocolate bar.
Making a healthier version of a popular food, such as chocolate, requires a strategic selection of ingredients and recipe formulation to maximise flavour release and product texture. The satiety inducing protein and potent nutritional profile of almonds makes them an excellent ingredient for chocolate products.
The need for differentiation in an increasingly crowded marketplace has also encouraged variations in the form of the almonds themselves, encompassing not only whole almonds, nibs, slivers, brittles and creams, but also preparation methods, which have moved on from roasting and salting (particularly with highly fashionable sea salt), and into methods such as caramelising and kettle cooking.