The dried fruit and nut snack category is expanding, with new products and packaging for health-conscious, on-the-go and flavor-seeking consumers.
Product sales don't grow on trees, but sales of dried fruit and nuts grown on trees certainly continue to sprout. Data from Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group show strong dollar sales growth in most of the segment's subcategories for the 52 weeks ending Nov. 4 (see the table, p. 46).
A quick visual sweep of the supermarket snack aisle, baking products section and produce department underscores the depth and breadth of dried fruit and nut offerings. Packages span single-serve boxes and pouches; 8-ounce to 16-ounce jars, pouches, cans, plastic and glass jars; club-size bags; and by-the-pound bulk offerings. And the content of those packages varies from single-variety nuts and dried fruits to traditional fruit-and-nut combinations, trail mixes and pairings with other snacking ingredients.
And a lot of the action is taking place on the store brand side of the business.
"Instead of following other branded products, we are seeing private label as a leader in terms of innovative products in this category," says Mike Mellace, vice president of sales and marketing for Mellace Family Brands Inc., Carlsbad, Calif., which produces a variety of snack mixes and nut snacks.
Mark Mariani, president of dried fruit and snack supplier Mariani Packing Company Inc. in Vacaville, Calif., agrees.
"Private label has increased dramatically in the last five years," he declares.
Store brand product manufacturers say their various platforms have to reflect the diverse and increasingly eclectic offerings that retailers are looking for in today's ever-competitive marketplace.
"Each customer has their own objectives they look to achieve," points out Jane Asmar, vice president, sales for Fowler, Calif.-based National Raisin Co. "Many use private label as a more attractive national brand equivalent, while others view private label as a unique competitive offering."
The latter group, Asmar says, requires specific value-added items that are not standard in the industry, with different sizes, mixes, packaging and blends.
Mariani reports that store brand customers have stepped up their snack-attack plan with new products and packaging.
"We are seeing more of our private label customers looking for different types of creative products," he says.
There isn't any one cut-and-dried (make that nut and dried) trend fueling strong brand sales in the category, however. A variety of trends are leading to new and different products, from the continuing interest in health and wellness and the ongoing clamor for convenience to the desire for new flavors and flavor combinations.
Do consider leading the national brands when it comes to innovation in the fruit and nut snack category.
Don't be afraid to experiment with flavors for nuts -- and even dried fruit.
Branching out with flavors
One flavor trend aims to improve on nature: Individual dried fruits and tree nuts might have their own distinctive flavors, based on their variety and where and how they were grown, but manufacturers are taking that inherent flavor to the next level with various enhancement flavors.
In the nut sector, added flavors run the gamut from sweet (think vanilla-infused nuts) to savory (ginger-soy-sauce seasoned nuts). Even flavors of cooking processes have segued into nuts, with smoked flavors adding another layer of interesting flavor. Coated nuts, whether drenched in chocolate, yogurt and other coverings, long have been popular, but add a premium to the category, too.
Mellace says his company is getting more calls for flavors added to traditional nut products. He also points out that the diversity of flavors reflects geographical differences in palates.
"You are seeing retailers by region customizing what flavors work for them. Some retailers, like H-E-B in the South, have different flavor profiles than other retailers, like Wegmans in the North," he observes.
Dried fruits also are getting a flavor boost. Craisins dried cranberries from Ocean Spray, for instance, now include pomegranate- and blueberry-juice-infused varieties. Mariani Packing, for its part, recently introduced a branded line called Flavor Sensations, featuring all-natural flavorings that complement the original dried fruit to mimic the taste of classic treats such as Cherry Pie and Cinnamon Raisin Bread. Moreover, the company is working on flavor innovations for its private label customers, according to Mariani.
Do invest in packaging that meets consumers' needs for convenience and freshness.
A mixed bag
In addition to flavor enhancements, new energy is coming into the fruit and nut snack category with a slew of different mixed products, including mixed nut assortments, mixed dried fruit assortments and blends of nuts, dried fruits and a host of other ingredients ranging from traditional trail mix candies such as coated-chocolate pieces to more exotic ingredients such as crystallized ginger and wasabi peas.
Mellace agrees that the category is literally and figuratively mixing things up.
"We are also seeing more on the trail mix side, as consumers look at unique and interesting combinations of fruits and nuts," he notes.
Almost as prolific as new twists on natural dried fruits and nuts and mixes is the array of package formats for dried fruit and nuts.
For snacking, single-serve pouches, boxes and bags cater to the convenience-oriented snacker, along with standup recloseable larger pouches for dried fruits, nuts and combinations such as trail mixes. As with other products, pouches for snacks allow for high-impact graphics and convenience of reclosability.
From her perspective at National Raisin, Asmar reports three distinct packaging trends in private label.
"First, retailers are trending away from store-based names and are embracing consistent naming of and packaging graphics as other store brand offerings," she says. "Secondly, packaging graphics themselves are decidedly simple, distinctive and easy to decipher, making it easy for private label offerings to be consistent across categories regardless of where they are merchandised. And finally, many customers are featuring consumer callouts on the packages which alert the shopper to product benefits and uses."
National Raisin offers a variety of packaging options for its store brand customers, she adds, ranging from 0.5-ounce boxes sold in multi-count packs to 5- and 6-ounce zipper stay-fresh bags.
Meanwhile, sustainability remains on the minds of many, including manufacturers of dried fruits and nuts. Mellace, for instance, introduced a new "Enviro-Tub" that is 100 percent recyclable.
"It also allows the consumer to see the product well," Mellace explains, adding that he expects sustainable packaging to remain an area of interest and activity.
The introduction of new flavors, combinations and convenience-oriented, informative and attention-grabbing packaging -- along with supporting promotional programs that include new elements such as social media -- likely will continue.
"As we go out and talk to retailers, they are more receptive to different kinds of innovations. It's a fun time to be selling these products," Mellace says.
Don't miss the opportunity to call out the health benefits of store brand fruit and nut snacks right on the package.
Look what's new
Great Value Hot & Spicy Crunchy Coated Peanuts from Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart retail in a 10.5-oz. plastic jar. The new product is kosher certified and also comes in a Honey Crunchy Coated Peanuts variety.
New from Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. is the Good & Delish Mixed Fruit Snack. The product features dried plums, apricots, peaches, pears and apples. Said to be perfect for on-the-go snacking, the product also is a good source of fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C. It retails in a 10.5-oz. recloseable standup pouch.
Simple Truth Organic Trail Mix from Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is said to feature organically grown ingredients that include raisins, dry-roasted peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, dates, apricots, pumpkin seeds, apples and walnuts. The kosher-certified product retails in an 8-oz. recloseable standup pouch.
New from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Inc. is The Snack Artist Almond Berry Medley Trail Mix. It contains cranberries, dark chocolate-covered soybeans, almonds, blanched almonds and blueberries. This kosher certified product is said to be a good source of dietary fiber and retails in a 14-oz. recloseable pouch.
Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe's debuted Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds. The roasted nuts retail in a 16-oz. bag.
Source: Mintel's Global New Products Database
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|Publication:||Progressive Grocer's Store Brands|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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