Food formulators are putting nuts in a wide variety of products. From snacks to bread spreads to yogurt, tree nuts and peanuts increasingly are being added to foods for crunch, flavor and often nutrition, despite the fact a few are classified as a food allergen.

A driver of nut innovation is the 2003 Food and Drug Administration-approved qualified health claim that reads: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 oz per day of most nuts (such as name of specific nut) as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Use of the claim is restricted to almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some pine nuts, pistachio nuts and walnuts. Products that may state the claim include whole or chopped nuts that are raw, blanched, roasted, salted and/or lightly coated and/or flavored, as well as nut-containing products that have at least 11 grams of one or more of the specified nuts. There are some restrictions on fat content and labeling.

Consumer education and outreach provided by the Almond Board of California, Modesto, Calif., has raised awareness of the health perception of all types of nuts, in particular, almonds, which is driving a significant amount of creative product development.

“Taste and nutrition are the top-two reasons consumers choose to buy almonds, and sales data show almonds have maintained strong positions and growth in three key categories: pure snack nut, granola and energy bars,” said Harbinder Maan, manager, North America ingredient and category marketing for the Almond Board of California. “When it comes to developing snack products, almonds are an ingredient with universal appeal. It’s no wonder almonds have held their position as the No. 1 ingredient nut used in new products worldwide since 2005.”

Inside the snacking trend

All types of nuts are benefitting from consumers’ increasing interest in on-the-go, better-for-you, value-added snacks. Nuts help meet consumers’ cravings for salty snacks by providing nutrition that you don’t necessarily get in a chip, puff or pretzel, as nuts inherently contain vitamins and healthful fatty acids, while also being relatively low in carbohydrates.

Because sales data suggest snack nut consumers tend to be older, many of the recent flavor innovations are designed to appeal to more sophisticated, adult palates. For example, The Wonderful brand of pistachios is adding two flavor varieties to its product line: salt and pepper and sweet chili.

The Blue Diamond brand of oven roasted almonds is introducing seven flavors designed for the convenience channel. There are three fruit-inspired options: blueberry, raspberry and strawberry. Then there are three varieties designed to provide a caffeine energy boost: caramel macchiato, mocha and roasted coffee. For those who want a taste of the tropics, there is new toasted coconut. The new snack nuts come in 1.5-oz single-serve packs in 12-pack convenience-store merchandising caddies.

The company continues to add more flavors to its retail product lines. The Smart Snacking 6-oz can line now includes Buffalo wing, while the 4-oz bag comes in wasabi and soy sauce. There also is a new 100-calorie dark chocolate pack, which is sold in boxes of seven 0.635-oz packs. The 3.5-oz Smart Eating bag line is offering decadent flavors with butter toffee and mint dark chocolate varieties.

The David brand from ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, the No. 1 selling brand of seeds (primarily sunflower, but also pumpkin), now includes a line of almonds and trail mix.

“Snacking, which represents roughly 20% of eating occasions, is growing and becoming a larger part of Americans’ total diets,” said Taylor Beckstead, brand manager for David. “As such, people are becoming more mindful of what they’re munching, and they’re seeking snacks that deliver on more than simply satisfying an immediate craving. Snacks like David almonds and trail mixes are filled with crunchy nuts, delicious fruits and sunflower kernels to provide that little boost of energy to conquer the day, without the guilt factor that accompanies many sweet and salty snacks.

“By applying the same rigorous quality standards to these new items, David hopes to capture its fair share of the nuts and trail mix categories, which has been growing at roughly 15% in the convenience channel. This expansion is a natural step for the brand, especially when our research shows that 85% of David consumers are already buying nuts.”

The almonds come in roasted and salted, wasabi and soy, and dark chocolate varieties. The trail mix products include a variety of nuts and come in three blends: classic, fruit and nut, and sweet and salty.

Earlier in the year, the Planters brand rolled out a snacking nut designed for the specific nutritional requirements of men. Aptly named Planters NUT-rition Men’s Health, the snacking nut mix is a blend of three nuts men prefer — almonds, peanuts and pistachios — with each 1-oz serving containing 6 grams of protein and six vitamins and minerals (vitamin E, niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and manganese).

“Men are grocery shopping more, and they want a healthy snack that they can feel confident putting in their cart,” said Scott Marcus, senior brand manager for Planters, a brand of Kraft Foods Group, Northfield, Ill. “Our research shows that what men love about nuts is they see them as both healthy and manly. So, our nutritionists and developers teamed up with Men’s Health magazine, a trusted and respected authority on nutrition and manliness, to create what we think is an ideal, nutritious snack.”

Spreading the health

In efforts to expand peanut butter beyond the PB&J elementary school consumer, the Planters NUT-rition brand now includes peanut butter with wholesome ingredients, such as bananas, granola, berries, raisins, cinnamon and nuts. The new 12-oz jar line comes in three varieties: cinnamon raisin granola nut, banana granola nut and berry nut.

To make peanut butter more portable, The J.M. Smucker Co., Orrville, Ohio, markets if To Go multi-packs of 1.5-oz single-serve cups, which are designed to be used for dipping crackers, pretzels and even apple slices. Chocolate Silk (peanut butter and chocolate) is the line’s most recent addition. And in efforts to go beyond peanuts, the company recently debuted Jif Hazelnut Spreads in two varieties: chocolate and mocha cappuccino.

Nuts increasingly are being showcased as the characterizing flavor of some new product innovations. For example, the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., is in the midst of a national rollout of its latest addition to the FiberPlus product line: Nutty Delights. The 150-calorie bars come in two flavors: honey roasted almond and peanut and dark chocolate.

The National Raisin Co., Fowler, Calif., now offers three fruit-and-nut baking blends. Varieties are: almond fruit blend (almonds, pineapple, cranberries and blueberries), fruit cake blend (golden raisins, apricots, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, almonds and walnuts) and walnut baking blend (walnut halves and pieces, cranberries and golden raisins).

Even popcorn wants in on the nut trend. In January, Popcorn, Indiana in Englewood, N.J., will be introducing almond biscotti caramel flavored popcorn and roasted peanut caramel popcorn.

The same goes for yogurt. The YoCrunch Co., Rosemont, Ill., decided to add crunch and extra nutrition to its Greek Yogurt fruit parfait line. There are two varieties — the blueberry, pomegranate and acai, and raspberry and acai — both that contain a dome of toasted almond topping for mixing into the Greek yogurt.