How nut butter has evolved to offer indulgence and functionality

22 August 2022, 07:23 AM
  • With a variety of nut butters a mainstay of every store cupboard across the UK, we explore how premiumisation has transformed the sector
How nut butter has evolved to offer indulgence and functionality

While a few years ago the classic peanut butter ruled the roost in the nut butter sector, now shelves are filled with spreads made from everything from pistachio to macadamia nuts and boosted with functional ingredients or nostalgic flavours

In fact, as Mike Duckworth, founding director of Nutcessity, explained, “Prior to 2015, when Pip & Nut launched their peanut and almond butters into Selfridges, most consumers hadn’t heard of cashew butter, pumpkin seed butter, or all manner of speciality nut and seed butter.”

So, what are consumers looking for in 2022, and how have their desires evolved?

Desire for innovative flavours
According to Fatma Akalin-McGee, managing director at Natural Selection Foods, “Nut butter is often seen as a treat, so consumers are really looking for innovative and indulgent options, with increasing curiosity for creative and inventive flavours.”

Shoppers are constantly searching for a new variety of nut butter to try, so keeping up with the latest flavour trends is essential for sweet success. As Mike puts it, “Essentially, the nut butter pie is growing in value, but peanut butters’ share is slipping, with consumers’ interest easily distracted by the new nut butter on the block.

“It’s not that peanut butter isn’t popular, but it hasn’t the same appeal that today’s customers crave, whether that be due to dietary demands or their insatiable appetite for ‘newness’ - new flavours, new textures, roast levels or nut combinations.”

Brands that will perform well are ones introducing new flavours or experimenting with different nuts to create the creamiest and most indulgent spread. 

Functional ingredients
According to Fatma, “The trend for healthier and more functional products has been a major driver of NPD in all food sectors for many years and is set to continue and evolve as more active generations become buying consumers. 

“In the nut butters sector, there is a lack of functional offerings for consumers to add to their natural protein boost. Heightened awareness of our health since the pandemic has seen NPD teams utilise more the proven benefits of superfoods and create products that target specific health issues such as cholesterol and stomach health, but also the wider demands for more foods that help our immune system or give us more energy.”

But as Zoe Roberts, founder of ButterNut, explained, “People are much more aware of the health benefits of eating certain foods. However, they don’t always know how to get them into their diet. This means they are on the lookout to purchase tasty products that have already done the hard work for them.”

As a result, nut butters are now starting to include extra ingredients to boost the functionality of the product, such as turmeric, maca, live cultures and ginger. 

A nostalgic indulgence
With two long years of Covid restrictions that left many people feeling anxious and vulnerable and now the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, consumers are finding comfort in nostalgic flavours.

As Fatma explained, “We have seen a rise in nostalgic food trends with the pandemic and now cash-strapped consumers are looking for comforting and affordable treats. 

“Nostalgic and comforting flavours reassure consumers and give them a sense of relief and escape from life’s challenges and an unpredictable future.”

For example, Nutcessity’s Maple Pecan and Gingerbread Almond nut butters capitalise on the festive season, but are available all year round for customers seeking comfort and reminders of happier times whatever the date. 

Because nut butters are rich in fat and protein, making them extremely satiating, they are a popular choice both in the colder months and at times when spending is stretched. As Mike explained, “With budgets shrinking, consumer appetite for ‘filler’ foods like pasta, rice and peanut butter will only increase, especially when the nights draw in.”

Ensuring your nut butter offering provides indulgent and nostalgic flavours such as cherry bakewell, toffee apple and treacle tart will set you apart this winter and provide your customers with a sense of comfort.

Capitalising on consumer demand
With such a huge market for innovative and indulgent nut butter spreads, there are plenty of opportunities for independent retailers to cash in on. In order to do this, they need to focus on what sets them apart to begin with – offering what the supermarkets can’t.

Zoe suggests, “Fine food retailers can capitalise on [consumer demand] by stocking award-winning products that contain the functional ingredients and flavours that customers are looking for.” 

“Given that annual sales of peanut and nut butters overtook jam in recent years, a selection of nut butters that mirrors the space held by jam and marmalade should be strongly considered, to appeal to all demographics”, Mike added. 

“Within the economic crisis, the silver lining for indies is the likely trend toward shoppers conducting ‘small and often’ local shops, instead of using fuel to drive to their nearest supermarket. As is ever the case, the USP of small shops is their service level, niche product selection and overall shopping experience, and nothing changes here.”

As Fatma concludes, “Consumers are ready for the next level of nut butters, and right now is a perfect time for a wallet-friendly and high flavour treat.”

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