In the midst of the current plant-based food and beverage revolution, consumers are on the hunt for plant-based proteins in a variety of foods, according to a 2018 whitepaper from Edlong Corp., Elk Grove Village, Ill. Ranking No. 7 on the list was plant-based protein in beverages with 29 percent of consumers naming it as a sought-after product, it reports.
Pecan, quinoa, hazelnut and flax are emerging ingredients gaining momentum as sources for alternative milks, while 53 percent of U.S. consumers purchase plant-based milks, the whitepaper states.
Reinventing the authentic taste of dairy, a 20 percent increase was found in sales of vegan alternatives versus dairy products from 2016 to 2017, the whitepaper notes. From 2012 to 2016, global food and beverage product launches with vegan claims were up triple digits — 257 percent to be exact, it reports.
The beverage market’s increasing usage of nuts and grains mirrors trends impacting the entire food and beverage landscape, experts note.
“The lion’s share of beverages using grains and nuts are in the dairy alternative milk category,” explains Holly McHugh, marketing associate at Niles, Ill.-based Imbibe. “Almond is the most popular nut milk on the market, but oat milk is expected to explode in 2019. Many niche products have also launched over the last few years like cashew, hazelnut, peanut, quinoa and brown rice milks.”
Jennifer Williams, marketing director of domestic advertising for the Folsom, Calif.-based California Walnut Board and Commission, agrees that plant-based diets are increasing in popularity even by meat eaters searching for more plant-based options in their diets. “This has manifested itself in the beverage aisle by a rapid expansion of the refrigerated milk case,” she says. “Once dominated by dairy, we’re seeing countless new nut-based products entering the marketplace.”
The health benefits of nuts also is well-documented with consumers understanding the value of these good fats, Williams adds. “With an ingredient like walnuts, health research is continually being published touting the ingredient’s impact in improving heart health, cognitive function and general well-being,” she says. “As consumers learn of the amazing health properties of walnuts, we expect to see them used more in milk products, smoothies and creamer-type offerings.”
Almonds, another tree-based nut, also are being added to more formulations as more consumers are looking to live cleaner, healthier lifestyles, says Jeff Smith, director of marketing for Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division, Sacramento, Calif. “[C]onsumers are showing preferences for products that incorporate all-natural, healthful ingredients such as protein. The beverage industry is responding to these demands with new plant-based and high-protein products, leveraging almond ingredients to achieve optimal taste, texture and nutrition.”
Smith notes that almonds stand out because they are a natural, recognizable superfood that provide healthy “value-added” ingredients for beverage producers.
The company’s newest innovation, Blue Diamond Almond Protein Powder is an excellent source of fiber and minerals, including calcium, magnesium and zinc, the company says. The ingredient also has a higher omega-9 rich fat content than other proteins, which contributes to a smoother mouthfeel, a clean taste and a more rounded flavor profile, according to Smith.
Seeds at the center of goodness
As consumers pivot toward simple, unprocessed foods with clean-label ingredient claims, the back-to-nature appeal of grains and nuts within foods and beverages is on the rise. U.S. launches of plant–based foods and beverages with a non-GMO claim grew from 3.8 percent in 2012 to 19.6 percent in 2017, Chicago-based Mintel reports in a February 2018 press release titled “Taste is the Top Reason US Consumers Eat Plant-Based Proteins.”
As a clean-label, nutritionally focused, plant-based product, Blue Diamond Almond Protein Powder also is dairy free, gluten free, soy free and non-GMO, making it well suited for consumers who are making the switch to a cleaner, plant-based diet, Blue Diamond’s Smith says.
Almonds also pack a punch of protein and fiber. “Almond protein delivers approximately 41 to 44 percent protein, making one 30 gram serving a good source of protein,” he explains. “The powder derived from whole brown almonds is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, comprised primarily of insoluble fiber, and many other important minerals and nutrients that can help consumers fill gaps in a primarily plant-based diet.”
Known for their role in premium baking, walnuts are adding a unique flavor and texture to a variety of foods and beverages. Research shows that 72 percent of consumers would purchase a product containing walnuts, while 82 percent said that health benefits are one of the main reasons they purchase these products, the California Walnut Board’s Williams says.
In addition to ready-to-drink smoothies, milks and creamers, more teas are being infused with grains and nuts, experts note. The ingredients also are popping up in alcohol and non-alcohol drinks on-premise. “We have even seen some restaurants use walnuts in cocktails through walnut milks, walnut infused cocktails and bitters,” Williams says. “… Walnuts are an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid [and] plant-based omega-3 fatty acids are certified by the American Heart Association with the Heart-Check mark.” BI