Almonds remain among key health-focused trends for 2021

Innova Insights studies show pandemic confectionery and snacks trends with long-term appeal

Healthy living and a shift towards a greater range of plant-based food options including nutritionally beneficial snacks, are among the key emerging sector trends for 2021, according to Innova Market Insights.

The organisation noted that the pandemic has proved a major driver of consumer change, with ingredients such as almonds playing a key role in helping manufacturers address evolving demands for clean-label, healthy and versatile ingredients from sustainable supply chains.

As Innova noted, the onset of the global health pandemic, 2020 marked a step-change across the globe. Prolonged lockdowns and social distancing measures dramatically changed the lives of consumers as well as their everyday habits, and this has been especially visible in food and beverage choices.

A focus on personal health became not just a priority but a responsibility, and expanded to cover both physical and emotional wellbeing. Consumers are now seeking out products tailored to their specific needs and not just from a nutritional perspective; consumers seek indulgence and escapism from food too.

The pandemic also fast-tracked food safety, making the matter front of mind with concerns over hygiene and production. At the same time, the growth of plant-based food rocketed, and transparency became even more important to consumers. They want to know not just what’s in their food but what benefits the ingredients offer, where ingredients are sourced, and how they are grown and produced.

Ingredients like California almonds are valuable to food professionals because they offer endless opportunities for healthy product development with appealing flavour and texture. And, due to the industry’s rigorous safety standards, manufacturers can feel confident in a safe and sustainable supply of almonds – even during a global pandemic.

Lu Ann Williams, director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights explores some key trends set to drive food product innovation this year.

After a year dominated by Covid-19 and confusing information, it’s perhaps no surprise that transparency is the top trend predicted by Innova Market Insights for 2021. Personal health is something that consumers can manage and it’s at the top of their agenda. They want to ensure that what they’re eating is going to support them – both in terms of health and their beliefs.

For manufacturers, it’s never been more important to know about the ingredients you’re working with. It’s crucial to understand the functional benefits of products as consumers gravitate towards foods that have benefits beyond nutrition. Williams comments: “Foods offering immunity benefits are set to take storm as consumers seek to bolster their immune systems and protect against unwanted illness. Consumers view food as a key pillar for their immunity, and this goes beyond the wellbeing aisle. They’re looking to fulfil both their physical and emotional health with a considered approach to what they eat.”

But it’s not just what’s in our food and what it does for our health; consumers want reassurance that their food is produced safely, ethically and sustainably. These beliefs have a real impact on purchase power.

Dariela Roffe-Rackind, director Europe & Global Public Relations at the Almond Board of California, adds: “Almonds are a great example of an ingredient with a story to tell. On the one hand, they are perfect for manufacturers seeking to create nutritious products with a multitude of health benefits, and on the other hand, there’s the sustainability story about how California almonds are responsibly grown. So as consumers continue to seek more and more information about where their food comes from, what’s in it and how it’s produced, manufacturers can feel confident that California almonds are both good for you and good for the planet as well as tasting good.”

In the summer of 2020, Innova Market Insights called out the move toward restoring personal health as a trend resulting from the pandemic. Moving into 2021, this trend has evolved to take on an even more personalised approach, one that is ‘Tailored to Fit’.

Williams adds: “We’re expecting personal health to remain in the spotlight this year, but as consumers look for food and drinks that fit their unique lifestyles it will evolve to take a more tailored approach. In the last four years alone, Keto diets have seen a growth of 165%, with plant-based also growing by 35%, so whether it’s to serve nutritional needs, lifestyle habits or body composition, consumers want the flexibility to choose products that are suited to them.”

When it comes to a personalised approach, almonds are an ingredient that can play to a multitude of nutritional needs. Roffe-Rackind comments: “Almonds’ clean label credentials make them suitable for a whole range of dietary and lifestyle choices. As one of the most researched foods, there is a body of over 180 research studies exploring the role that almonds can play in heart health, diabetes management, weight management and skin health to name a few, so they’re an ingredient that consumers – and therefore manufacturers – can feel confident will bring health benefits.”

Plant-based options

Plant-based is also set to remain centre stage this year but, thanks in part to the diverse and successful range of products introduced into the category and the rise of flexitarianism, we can expect it to become more mainstream. Williams continues: “From plant-based alternatives to meat and cheese, to plant-powered snacks and probiotic drinks, manufacturers are responding to accelerating demand and the opportunity for exciting new innovations shows no sign of slowing.” Huge multi-national corporations as well as start-ups are committing big budgets and ambitious targets for plant-based food sales. According to Whole Foods, the market for alternative meat snacks will also see real developments in the coming year.

There is, however, still work to be done when it comes to plant-based alternatives and getting innovation right. Taste and texture are some of the trickier aspects to perfect, particularly when it comes to meat-specific alternatives, but as technology and innovation continue to evolve in 2021, meat manufacturers are expected to make strides in their non-meat offerings.

Almonds are a useful ingredient to consider when it comes to creating tasty plant-based alternatives because of their ability to pair well with other ingredients, which can help to build both a taste profile and a complete protein. Roffe-Rackind adds: “Per 30g serving, almonds contain 6 grams of energising plant protein so pairing them with ingredients which have contrasting amino acid profiles can create a complete protein. Legumes, lentils or pulse are great options to pair them with in order to create tasty complete proteins.”

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