Americans are snacking more now than ever before, with 94% snacking daily and more than half of them snacking two or three times each day, according to the Mintel Group, a Chicago-based research company.
But those snack lovers also are concerned about their health, so many are choosing better-for-you snack items, such as seeds and nuts.
In the total U.S. multi-outlets for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2015, nut sales increased to $6.294 billion, a 3.3% hike over 2014, according to Nielsen data. According to Nielsen, sales of flavored nuts have generated CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 7.2% over the last four years. Comparably, unflavored nuts earned a CAGR of 5.3% over the same period.
In the past 52 weeks, the Pak-A-Sak stores, based in Portland, Ind., have seen the sale of salty snacks increase 1.7%, but nuts and seeds are out-producing the category’s other offerings—such as chips and pretzels—with a 6.5% sales boost.
“Peanuts still lead the pack, but consumers like the health benefits of almonds and sunflower seeds, which has helped increase their sales,” said Gary Tabor, director of marketing for Pak-A-Sak.
“Sunflower seeds are a nutritional powerhouse, squeezing a significant amount of nutrients into their compact size, including calcium, protein, phosphorous, iron and Omega-3 and -6,” said Anna Noetzel, global senior public relations manager for Mintel.
The healthy reputation of seeds and nuts has earned them a place as ingredients in other food products. Several yogurt companies, including Yoplait, now boost the protein content, flavor and texture of their products with the addition of sunflower, linseed or pumpkin seeds—or a combination.
Taste and indulgence are top purchase drivers of snacks, but seeds and nuts have bonus qualities. They are portable and come packaged in different formats, including single-serve or take-home bags. At the 35 Pak-A-Sak stores, sales of take-home bags are up 8.5%, which “surprised me,” said Tabor. “I thought our growth in single-serves would be greater [than take-home].”
Also, seeds and nuts can be basic or enhanced with flavor. For example, simple sunflower seeds come in many flavors, from nacho cheese, chili lime and BBQ to bacon, spicy garlic, buffalo wing and more. Flavored nut and seed sales are growing, but non-flavored offerings continue to outsell them.
“The competitive landscape in the snacking industry is fierce,” said Susan Dunn, executive vice president of Global Professional Services at Nielsen, the consumer research company. “Demand is driven primarily by taste and health considerations and consumers are not willing to compromise on either. The right balance is ultimately decided by the consumer at the point of purchase.”
“For us, spicy flavors are hit or miss,” Tabor said. “Dill pickle-flavored sunflower seeds seem to do well every place. That’s the last one I’d pick up, but it does well.”
To better boost health benefits, non-salted seeds and nuts are available. “We’ve tried them but haven’t gotten much traction from them,” he said. “People like nuts because of their perceived healthiness, but they still want the salt. They want to be healthy, but they want it to taste good too.”
Stay tuned to Convenience Store Decisions‘ March issue, where we delve into 38 in-store categories to identify emerging trends and garner retailer analysis to forecast what operators can expect for 2016 and beyond.