Key Interview: Almonds, Fast Becoming the Top Clean Label and Nutritious Snack Solution

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09 Jan 17 --- With new research published just last month from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing that both roasted and unroasted almonds provide fewer calories than once previously thought, there is no better time for the Almond Board of California to discuss both the study, and what the future holds for the nutritious nut.

NutritionInsight caught up with both Dariela Roffe-Rackind, Director for Europe for the Almond Board of California and Richard Waycott, President & CEO of the Almond Board of California, about consumer awareness, global penetration and the science behind the nutritional benefits of almonds.

Fewer Calories Than Previously Thought

The recent study jointly funded by the Almond Board of California and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), shows that compared to the number of calories listed on nutrition labels, participants actually absorbed 25% fewer calories from whole unroasted almonds and 19% fewer calories from whole roasted almonds.

Speaking with NutritionInsight about the study, Roffe-Rackind told us, “Our new study was done on whole unroasted almonds and then it was done on different forms of almonds, roasted, chopped and almond butter.”

“What we found was that whole unroasted almonds have about 25% fewer calories than thought, which is great news for us.”

Explaining the science, she says, “There is something about the cell-structure of the almonds, that keeps almonds from being totally broken down in our bodies and we are actually absorbing fewer calories.”

She continues, “What seems to be happening is that when you start breaking down the almonds into an almond butter, for example, you are getting more of the calories when the almonds are broken down into small pieces.”

The Nutritional Benefits of Almonds: Raising Awareness

The Almond Board have been working for many years both on raising the awareness about the nutritional benefits of almonds and how they can contribute to better human health in the future on a global scale. However, the results of this recent study have provided another opportunity to educate consumers and food professionals about the benefits of eating almonds.

“As we continue to develop more knowledge in this area, I think one of our challenges is being able to communicate the health benefits of almonds effectively to our various core consumers around the world,” Waycott explains, adding, “There are certainly different opportunities across different parts of the world.”

He tells us that some markets are more developed than others, with Europe yet to meet its potential.

“It’s interesting that some people ask about Europe being a mature almond market, but surprisingly no, our capita consumption in Europe is relatively small even though its our largest export region.”

“But if you look at almond milk for instance and the new market that has been created around non-dairy beverages, the use of almond spread, flour, even from a new product standpoint there is a lot going on in this area.”

“And just getting European consumers to be more savvy snackers, and realizing that almonds are great nutritious food to be eating more of on a daily basis is something we see as a huge opportunity - and with that obviously a lot of additional volume can be sold into Western Europe.”

Honing in on the Snack Market

It’s the snacking market where the organization  sees a huge growth opportunity.

“Snacking is our biggest area of focus, absolutely,” Roffe-Rackind confirms.

“From a trends standpoint it’s what we have promoted, with all the years of nutrition studies that we have, it really helps us communicate that clear message around nutrition and the benefits to human health.”

She continues, “I think snacking has gone from this general trend of people looking for snacks from a convenient standpoint with a need, to eating smaller meals  on occasion throughout the day.”

However, Roffe-Rackind also thinks that almonds offer something extra from a health perspective. She says they meet the demand of consumers who are looking for more natural unprocessed snacks, while simultaneously offering manufacturers a product that allows them to have a clean label.

“Almonds really provide that very nicely both from a consumer demand standpoint but also meeting that formulation need as well.”

She also explains how the health associations of the almond can help enhance the healthy connotations of other products.

“It’s what we call a health halo, so it provides a health halo for many of the other products that almonds are in, for example chocolate, cereal, bakery, gluten free.”

“There are lots of different applications and categories in which we are seeing almonds growing.”

She explains, “When we look at new product introductions, almonds continue to be the number one nut that has been used in NPI globally for the past 8 years. And, for the very first time in Europe, we have actually surpassed the hazelnut as the number one nut.”

“We are very fortunate in that we have such a healthy nutritiously dense product,” she notes. “But at the same time consumers love the taste and crunch and our customer base is expanding.”

The Future of the Almond Nutrition Market

How almonds will disrupt the nutrition sector will partly depend on the studies surrounding their health benefits. With plenty of these up the Almond Board’s sleeve, the future certainly looks bright.

“In terms of nutrition studies we have been doing research on nutrition for about 20 years, we have more than 130 published studies, peer reviewed studies to date with more in the works.”

“The other exciting piece of research we have done is on almond and dark chocolate together and the associated health benefits. The preliminary results look very encouraging for that combination of dark chocolate plus almonds,” says Roffe-Rackind.

She adds, “Researchers have also looked atcognitive health and brain function, so looking at when people are eating almonds, what happens to their sensory function and what is going on in their brains.” The results of this study have been submitted for publication.

The cognitive benefits of almonds are also something the Board is keen to explore.

“There are a lot of beliefs into almonds and mental acuity, memory and brain function,” states Roffe-Rackind.

“There are a lot of traditions, especially in India, where mothers give their children almonds every morning before they go to school to help them function and to help with memory.”

Waycott adds, “This goes back 1000s of years, and it’s a very strong belief in India that almonds help cognitive function. So we will be delving into that but it’s a hard scientific area to work with. It’s difficult because of all the confounding influences on the brain which a lot of people don’t really understand.”

It seems that almonds are set to flourish in the nutrition sector in the near future. And with the focus on finding alternative protein sources also a key issue, this also presents the almond industry with an opportunity.

Roffe-Rackind adds, “Looking at the projections of total population, in 2050 there’s going to be a few more people on the planet and almonds are another highly nutritious plant based protein which have a really important role to play in helping us meet our current and future nutrition needs, so there a pretty exciting future ahead for the Almond Board.”

By Hannah Gardiner

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