For several years, news reports and advertising campaigns have touted the nutritional value of nuts and seeds, and obviously the public is paying attention. A recent survey by Technomic Inc. concluded that more than half of the convenience store customers interviewed stated they purposely sought out healthier snack options, including seeds and nuts, than they did a year ago.
Another survey found that more than 75% of consumers view nuts as a healthy snack, as well as one high in protein. “Kudos to the almond industry for its marketing campaign and creating demand [because] some of that comes our way and for all nuts. There’s an excitement about nuts and health benefits,” said Ryan Lepicier, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the National Peanut Board.
“I definitely think advertising helps. The Wonderful Pistachios did a great job with its marketing by bringing in celebrities,” said Courtney Vercollone, category manager for Duxbury, Mass.-based VERC Enterprises. “When people see it in the stores, the commercials come to mind and they may laugh and then buy it.”
Snack food producers have noted this shift in consumer behavior as well, and have turned toward these super foods. Last spring, BakingBusiness.com reported more than one-third of all new snack food launches in 2013 contained nuts and seeds. Mintel Inc. also stated that nuts and trail mixes garnered 53% growth in sales between 2008 and 2013.
“Many buyers for in-the-shell [sunflower] seeds buy them to make them into snack foods, and we’ve seen that trend consistently grow 5-7% per year,” said John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association.
And that is paying off for c-stores. Nielsen reported seeds and nuts sales at convenience stores climbed more than $41 million for the 52 weeks ending January 2014. A year later, sales came in at more than $812 million, registering a $66 million gain.
“When I ran sales for 2014 versus 2013, I saw we’re up in nuts and seeds by about 12%, which is a pretty big increase on a little snack item,” Vercollone said.
In order to further entice consumers to choose seeds and nuts as their own snack items, not just as an ingredient in trail mixes or protein bars, vendors have created new seasonings. Bigs recently announced its Stubb’s Smokey Sweet Bar-B-Q Sunflower Seeds and Cinnamon & Sugar Pumpkin Seeds. The company also offers dill pickle, ranch and salt and vinegar options. “You are seeing some of the same flavors you’d expect to see in chips,” Sandbakken said.
Although she only gives the category a three-foot section in each of the 24 stores the company owns in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, Vercollone sees seeds and nuts as an area that deserves further attention.
“This category did very well for us last year, so we are going to continue to concentrate on it,” Vercollone said. “People are buying seeds and nuts, so we have to make sure our stores have a selection they want.”
Of course, nuts and seeds are a naturally enticing category to retailers when it comes to bundling opportunities, even healthy ones.
Late last year, American Pistachio Growers joined with Anheuser-Busch to promote the pairing of pistachio nuts with low-calorie beer. As part of the promotion running through 2015, pistachio patrons can save up to $6 on the purchase of American Pistachio Growers member-branded pistachios and a 12-pack or larger of Michelob ULTRA.