Pandemic purchasing: Consumers turn to healthier ingredients including almonds within confectionery

The pandemic has posed a huge challenge for many food producers during the past two years, but there have also been opportunities for the food sector, as the Almond Board of California has highlighted in its latest market reflection.

With consumers experiencing turbulent and unpredictable times amid the Covid-19 crisis, such high levels of uncertainty have prompted shoppers to focus on their mental and physical health, with wellbeing proving a key factor for many purchasing decisions.

This has been reflected in the food industry, and, subsequently, confectionery, with chocolate as always being a front runner due to its mood boosting qualities, antioxidants and versatility in encasing other health benefitting ingredients.

Consequently, key product inclusions such as almonds have seen a strong level of interest amid the pandemic, with the nut variety remaining extremely popular within chocolate confectionery ranges, particularly within the premium segment of the market.

Consumers say that they are highly interested in mood based food and beverage experiences, with more than 40 per cent stating that they are “very interested” or “extremely interested,” with survey data from Innova Market Insights, shows there is an array of sought-after mood-related needs. In Innova’s 2019 Consumer Survey, over half of global consumers said they seek products that are good for their body and give them energy, while one-third wanted foods and beverages that make them happy.

The relationship between mood and food is so strong that Mood: The Next Occasion was one of the featured trends in Innova Market Insights’ Top 10 Trends for 2021, indicating abundant opportunities for manufacturers. Innova has seen continued interest in various aspects of mental wellbeing. Consumers want products that make them feel good, improve their moods, and optimise sleep and mental focus. One in five global consumers expressed willingness to pay more for food and beverages containing functional ingredients that “boost mental health.”

In 2020, Innova questioned consumers from ten countries about their level of interest in several different mental health functions. At least two-thirds of consumers globally are somewhat or very interested in feeling calm and relaxed, energised, balanced, or happy. In the Innova Flavour Survey 2021, consumers most often associated nuts with energy and mental focus, but approximately one in eight consumers choose nuts to feel stimulated, comforted, indulgent, or relaxed.

This is where the almond reintroduces itself to us. Global food and beverage launches, with mood-related claims and almond ingredients, show a compound annual growth rate of 45 per cent, and mental functions are a key driver of innovation for products with almond ingredients. Almonds are a nutrient-rich food, delivering their own functional benefits, but they also ease product development by offering unparalleled taste, texture and ingredient versatility.

Almonds have always been a popular addition to confectionery, but the accelerated interest in almond products in other areas of the food industry is mirroring further growth in confectionery. As Innova Market Insight’s research found, confectionery remains the top category for almond introductions in Europe and the Middle East & Africa, while snacks lead in Latin America and Asia-Pacific, and bars in North America. According to the same study, the prized nut variety accounted for 41 percent of 12,181 new inclusions, globally, during 2020.

New product launches are highlighting almonds as a functional ingredient for mood. Yishi Sweet Osmanthus Oatmeal (U.S.) promotes calming effects from functional ingredients such as turmeric, hemp seed, osmanthus flower and almonds. Yishi notes that almonds are a “superfood in Chinese Medicine, used specifically to support the liver, kidneys, eyes and lungs.” Mother Earth Chocolate Brownie Bliss Wellbeing Bar (New Zealand) calls out its magnesium content, stating that the product “contributes towards normal psychological function.” Almonds are a good source of magnesium, a nutrient research suggests may help with brain functions that reduce stress and anxiety.

Whether changes in mental health are caused by a pandemic, climate change, work life, home life, or health, consumers will continue to turn to food and beverages containing almonds to improve their mood and feelings of wellbeing.

Almonds also play a role in feel-good indulgence by contributing to popular taste and texture preferences. Lindberg Crunch 55 Percent Fruit And Nut Dark Chocolate (India), a launch with chocolate, almonds, and raisins, focuses on the sensory contributions of its ingredients and entreats consumers to “encounter true bliss with its rich flavour and delectable crunchy texture.”

Finally, almond products also serve as a base for added functional ingredients, enabling complementary flavours and inclusions to shine. Koia’s creamy almond milk-based Cold Brew Protein Coffee (U.S.) “contains health-promoting compounds known to foster mental alertness.” Smpl’s Vanilla Almond Focus Bar (U.S.) includes “a boost of 200mg of ashwagandha and 200mg of ginseng to improve focus and concentration and reduce stress.” With over 14 versatile forms including almond butter, almond milk, defatted almond flour and more, almonds can also be a go-to partner for formulating with other ingredients.

For consumers seeking holistic feel-good ingredients, almonds are an ideal choice due to their nutrient package including 4 grams of fibre, 6 grams of protein, 13 grams of good unsaturated fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat, essential fatty acids, polyphenols, magnesium, copper, and antioxidant vitamin E in each serving. So it seems the almond is here to stay, whether it be in our chocolate, milk alternatives, and cereals but will also likely be continuing to explore its versatility in less mainstream food and drink applications as its consumer appeal grows.

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