Almond Industry Report: Healthy Snacking to Support Almond Demand

June 21st, 2012

Demand for almonds has grown rapidly in every major geography in the world in tandem with increased demand for nut-based snacks. As the almond food product development business continues to grow, the 2011 almond crop in the US reached over 2.0 billion lbs, up 25% from 2010, and the 2012 crop is expected to again reach the 2 billion pound mark.

Most US almond production comes from 760,000 acres in California where leading producer Blue Diamond Growers is based and is approaching USD 1 billion in annual revenues. 

Blue Diamond Almonds will be exhibiting at the end of the month at the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada. While in presenting, the company will seek to highlight its position as a dominant and reliable supplier among customers and discuss trends, such as almond product development, which are shaping almond consumption globally.

Ahead of the event, FLEXNEWS spoke to Bill Morecraft, who is General Manager for Blue Diamond’s Global Ingredients Division, the largest division within the company, to find out what benefits come from using almond products in food development and what factors are driving demand growth for almonds as food ingredients.

[FLEXNEWS] Mr. Morecraft, can you provide us with an overview of the current status of the global market for almonds? How does Blue Diamond fit into this picture? 

[Bill Morecraft] California’s almond industry supplies 80-85% of the world’s almonds and has experienced 13% to 15% growth annually since 2005 as global demand increases. 

Blue Diamond continues to experience growth in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in the North American market. The US market has doubled in 10 years. China has emerged as a major consumer of almonds, particularly for snacking. China alone is up 500% over 5 years.

Our company is active in every major country around the globe. Our staff travels the world, meeting one-on-one with customers to ensure we understand their needs, now and for the future. Whether our customer’s are based here in the US or anywhere around the globe, we apply the same R&D resources, supply requirements, quality and service we are known for throughout the industry. 

[FLEXNEWS] Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division was previously known as Blue Diamond Industrial Products. What are the main reasons for transitioning to a new name and positioning?

[Bill Morecraft] The evolution of our division name from Industrial Products to Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division reflects our position as the world’s largest and best-positioned leader in almond ingredient supply. We work with the most recognized global brands in many food categories. The new name better captures our ability to provide these demanding and quality-oriented companies with the very best almond ingredients anywhere they need them, in any form. 

The 2011 almond crop was 25% larger than the prior year, but global demand growth has resulted in rising prices. The 2012 crop looks to be of ~2 billion pounds (not significantly larger than last year). For consumer packaged goods companies using almonds as a healthy, value-added ingredient this will put a premium on working with a supplier who can guarantee an uninterrupted supply. Our size and focus gives us some remarkable global advantages, including uninterrupted supply, incredible breadth of product line, world leadership in almond food safety and ongoing market research and product development innovations to benefit our customers. 

At IFT later on this month, we want to highlight the importance of progress, innovation and change in evolving to our new positioning as the Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division. As part of this initiative, we are launching a new website with extensive information on almond varieties, application information, market presorts, nutrition and safety updates.

[FLEXNEWS] In your view, what are the main drivers of almond-ingredient demand? 

[Bill Morecraft] There is an unprecedented demand for almonds globally for three reasons: their versatility, healthy attributes and affordability. Consumers love their subtle flavor and crunchy texture, and manufacturers are responding by including almonds in an increasing number of products. And while almonds’ versatility continues to make them an important ingredient in cereals, confections and baked goods, it’s really the snack market that has turbo-charged demand. 

In fact, Innova has reported steady growth in the global snack market with the number of new product launches showing double-digit growth in 2011. With snack foods driving new product activity, almonds are leading the way in the nut category by being included as an ingredient in over 4,200 new product introductions. 

Add to this the fact that almonds are nutritious and heart-healthy, a great source of key vitamins, minerals and other nutrients; deliver more calcium than milk and more protein than eggs per 8 gram serving. They are also a great source of fiber and their high levels of unsaturated and monounsaturated fat content promotes heart health. Recent scientific studies have also shown that almonds are helpful in weight maintenance and – for type 2 diabetics – maintaining cholesterol and blood glucose levels. 

Moreover, almonds were recently recognized by the American Heart Association for their nutrient profile and given the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark, a trusted nutrition symbol that was designed to help shoppers pick out heart-healthy foods. In terms of the marketing advantage the Heart-Check mark has to Blue Diamond and our customers, it will be a very visible type of “healthy eating” endorsement from an impeccable third-party source. It will clearly make a difference as consumers shop the grocery aisle, as many companies will make prominent use of the AHA Heart-Check mark on labels and packaging for products that contain almonds.

If these weren’t reasons enough, almonds are also a clean-label ingredient. For R&D food scientists and product developers, this fact alone enhances the attractiveness of almonds and addresses many formulation challenges.

Lastly, the strong supply and availability of almonds continues to make it one of the most affordable tree nuts. As mentioned, we are looking forward to a record crop in California this year and are on-target to meet expectations of nearly 2 billion pounds. 

[FLEXNEWS] Can you tell us more about current and future trends of almond use, forms, and food industry applications?

[Bill Morecraft] The most significant trend related to almond use is, as previously said, the growth in new product activity in snack foods. This is a global trend and not confined to the US or Western Europe. Asia generated about 40% of global snack launches from mid-2010 to mid-2011. Every major market research study, including those reporting from foodservice and retail grocery channels, indicate consumers are snacking more—at least twice a day according to Technomic. Of course, this would include healthy snacks like cereal/granola bars and energy/nutrition bars. Any increase in snacking benefits Blue Diamond.

Another strong category for almonds is confections, chocolate in particular. Confectionery saw a 25% increase in the last major survey reporting almond use between 2009 and 2010. For chocolates, a recent global survey ranked almonds as a top ingredient for both milk and dark chocolate, and consumers’ rate almonds as the number one ingredient pairing with chocolate. In fact, 75% of consumers in a recent survey believed chocolate with almonds is more nutritious, and that almonds are the best nut to deliver nutrition in chocolate products. 

In terms of forms, almonds are superior on all fronts. No other nut is as versatile in the types and number of forms available—from sliced, diced, slivers and whole, to almond flour and paste as well as crushed almonds, which make delicious coatings for meats and other protein. 

Applications continue to evolve with consumer tastes and R&D creativity. At the upcoming IFT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, we will be sampling an orange-flavored almond slice that would be a terrific ingredient in a cereal, snack bar, confection or bakery product. We are proud to collaborate with our customers to find the perfect almond solution that delivers on their product vision for taste, texture and overall formulation.

Finally, Blue Diamond has just launched an investment in a new almond innovation center in Sacramento. We will be expanding our capabilities to do industry-leading research into nutrition, and new product forms and flavors.