Category Review: Fruit and Nut Snacks - Going Nuts

June 6, 2008
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The upswing in the dried fruit and nut snacks categories can be attributed, at least in part, to increased consumer interest in healthful, convenient products.

When it comes to snacking, nuts and dried fruit are by no means newfangled concepts. The oldest walnut remains, discovered in Iraq, are believed to be from 50,000 B.C., notes the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, Leavenworth, Wash. And people have enjoyed raisins since the earliest days of civilization, according to Sun-Maid Growers of California.

But these old standbys are making news - thanks to the phenomenal growth they’ve realized in recent years.

The upswing in the dried fruit and nut snacks categories can be attributed, at least in part, to increased consumer interest in healthful, convenient products.

“People want to eat healthier,” notes Rich Robbins, regional sales manager for Tipp City, Ohio-based Trophy Nut Co. “Nuts have many natural health benefits and are viewed as a healthy choice [in comparison to] your typical salty snack.”

Many nut products now flaunt heart-health and other health benefits right on the label, he adds.

As for dried fruit, it’s typically high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and also contains essential minerals and vitamins.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the dried fruit and nut snacks sectors now are awash with innovations designed to boost their appeal even further. Jane Asmar, director of corporate accounts for the Fowler, Calif.-based National Raisin Co., points to several product enhancements impacting the dried fruit category.

“Three current efforts include 100-calorie packs, [a] shift to antioxidant marketing, as well as pomegranate and other component ingredients,” she says. “In addition, products with exotic mixtures and new ingredients are being introduced. Gogi berries, pluots, tropicals … It’s all very exciting.”

National Raisin is working with a number of top-tier retailers, she adds, to develop unique products from around the world - in “high-impact, environmentally sustainable packaging.”

In both categories, sweet and salty flavor combinations continue to be popular, says Nima Fotovat, director of sales - private label for Markham, Ontario-based Shandiz Natural Foods. And natural and organic alternatives are gaining in appeal, as are enriched products that promise ingredients such as added vitamins, minerals or fiber.

Tony Bagato, vice president of marketing for Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mellace Family Brands, agrees that the sector is shifting toward organic and natural.

“Mellace Family Brands continues to see the ‘greening’ of the fruits and nut snacks category,” he says.

Roseanne Christman, director of corporate marketing - private brands for Elgin, Ill.-based John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., says yet another fruit-and-nut trend marries health benefits with taste sensations. Such blends might combine crispy coated orange-spiced almonds or sugar spiced walnuts, for example, with natural pecans and cranberries and/or raisins.

Opportunity Knocks

Private label already accounts for a 16.1 percent share of the dried fruit category - and a whopping 33 percent share of the snack nuts category. But retailers will find no shortage of growth opportunities moving forward.

“Private label continues to [deliver a] more favorable price-benefit for consumers,” Asmar maintains. “[Today’s] dried fruit and nuts offerings tend to be less traditional and more cutting-edge. Specifically for us, tropical ingredients, exotic flavorings, progressive blends, organics and state-of-the-art packaging are combined to offer consumers cutting-edge products at attractive price points.”

Retailers will find big private label opportunities in trail mixes, spicy and flavored nuts, and fruit mixes, Robbins notes.

“People want better and healthier choices,” he says.

Christman also looks to trail mixes as a private label growth area, but says the interest will be in one-of-a-kind mixes that boast unique ingredients - what she terms “the unpredictable surprise of ingredients blended together.”

Asmar expects private label to continue its expansion into niche offerings.

“It gives retailers the opportunity to capitalize on growth segments while building consumer loyalty,” she says. “These would include, but wouldn’t be limited to, unique items that no one else has or products that have high-end ingredients or flavors.”

And certified organic offerings represent a potential growth area for private label.

“We will continue to see growth in the organic section; however, maybe not as rapid as we have seen in the past,” Bagato says. “All-natural fruit and nut mixes will also continue to grow in this sector.”

Fotovat expects a wave of innovation and differentiation in the private label sector as the national brands continue to up the ante with creative new product launches - especially in natural, clean and organic options.

“Private label options are endless,” Fotovat says. “That is the beauty of custom manufacturing and branding. You can experiment with different flavors, ingredients [and] nutritional contents, and deliver your message through unique packaging and merchan-dising options.”

Of course, the sourcing decision plays a huge role in the private label product’s final quality. Asmar recommends that retailers source their dried fruit and nut snacks items from manufacturers that can provide a wide variety of items, ranging from best-selling SKUs to components that are part of emerging growth segments.

“In addition, you’ll want a supplier that has the capacity to source conventional and organic products, and a company that packs in a variety of packages - from boxes to canisters, bag-in-box, bag-in-bag, resealable gusset bags and even bulk,” she adds.

Groomed for the Sale

Speaking of packaging, when it’s done right and combined with proper merchandising and promotion, it can up the odds for new product success. And private label is no exception.
“With the rising cost of food, now is not the time to withdraw into our comfort zones,” Bagato advises private label retailers. “We need to be thinking even more out of the box in terms of products and cross-promotions. Shoppers are becoming more specialized and aware of a product’s quality, benefits and value.”

Creative new styles of packaging can work to attract consumers, Christman says, and packaging that is resealable and/or reusable fits in with consumers’ need for con-venience.

In keeping with the convenience theme, tubs and stand-up gusset bags are growing in appeal in the healthy snacks arena, Robbins adds, as are grab-and-go single-serve packs. And consumers feel better about making pricier purchases - such as premium nuts - when the package actually allows them to view the items inside, he adds.

Fotovat suggests that retailers also keep a few other key packaging trends in mind during the development of private label dried fruit and nut snacks, including those leaning toward a matte finish; a simple, uncluttered design; and eco-friendly materials.

As for merchandising, retailers can increase impulse buys and drive additional sales by placing snack nuts in custom displays or in shippers away from the snack aisle, Robbins stresses. At the same time, they’ll be able to enhance customer awareness and their own cross-merchandising capability.

It’s especially important, Christman says, to cross-merchandise items in the snack and produce departments using end-cap and/or aisle displays adjacent to related items. A few suggestions include nut-and-fruit mixes with salads, cooking-type nuts with ethnic dishes, and baking-type nuts with other baking staples.

National Raisin Co.’s category management efforts suggest that dried fruit performs best when merchandised in the produce department, Asmar notes.

“Promoting the category is essential to its continued success,” she says, “but it can’t be a predictable day-in/day-out 10- or 15-cent temporary price reduction. Dried fruit is varied enough in its scope that creative promoting can be leveraged to keep the category fun for consumers.”

For example, raisins could be promoted as healthful Easter basket fillers, Asmar says, and dried fruit varieties could be cross-merch- andised with other baking supplies, ready-to-eat cereal and salads.

“Anytime you can promote with another category, it gives the consumer a compelling reason to purchase, and you’re ahead of the game,” she stresses. PLB

Sidebar: Food for Thought

Retailers looking for ways to make their store brand dried fruit and nut snacks stand out from the crowd will find no shortage of new product ideas from private label manufacturers.

National Raisin Co., Fowler, Calif., now offers 100-calorie dried fruit snacks, as well as a dried fruit-based antioxidant blend, says Jane Asmar, the company’s director of corporate accounts.

On the nut snacks side, Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mellace Family Brands has natural, organic and conventional kettle-roasted and oven-roasted almonds, cashews, peanuts and pecans, says Tony Bagato, vice president of marketing for the company. In addition, the company has a fruit and nut mix that features oven-roasted almonds and cashews. All items are kosher certified.

Continuing on the health and wellness theme, Tipp City, Ohio-based Trophy Nut Co. just launched a new brand of good-for-you fruit- and nut-based snacks. Called Trophy Farms, the six-item assortment comes in convenient single-serve 1-ounce and 2-ounce tube packages, says Rich Robbins, regional sales manager. Each item is either all-natural or organic.

For its part, Shandiz Natural Foods of Markham, Ontario, is expanding its research and development department, concentrating on innovation and improvements geared toward “healthier” alternatives, explains Nima Fotovat, director of sales - private label.

“We are working on developing unique concepts in food technology and development in taste, ingredient selection, nutritional value and unique packaging concepts,” Fotovat says.

John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc., Elgin, Ill., also is working on several items targeting the health and wellness segment of fruit and nut snacks, notes Roseanne Christman, director of corporate marketing - private brands. In addition, the company is beefing up its research and development efforts in the packaging sustainability arena.

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