Businesses that stand still get left behind. This is especially true today in nut processing. Sticking for too long with the same old working practices and machines is standing still. Not getting left behind requires awareness of latest processing technologies and market trends. But which trends are here to stay, and how can processors profit from them, either now or in the near-future?
Market trends driven by shoppers in supermarkets might seem far removed from nut processing lines, but in fact they are links in the same chain. When consumers buy more of a particular type of nut, retailers request more from manufacturers, and manufacturers ask processors to send more produce. Suddenly there can be the need to process higher volumes than before, but to the same tight deadlines; or to raise quality; or to increase both output and quality at the same time. The businesses best-prepared for such demands are those who anticipate what lies ahead by keeping an eye on trends.
The biggest change of all right now is that buyers are going nuts for nuts. Sellers can’t get enough of them. This is mostly because of five big trends.
Trend 1: Demand for health benefits
One trend in well-developed markets (such as the USA, Europe and Australasia) is the booming popularity of nuts for their natural tastiness and health benefits. Not so long ago, all fatty foods, including nuts containing natural fats, were portrayed as artery-clogging villains. But now there is a better understanding that the omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts are beneficial for health, and processed sugar has become the new demon. This is motivating more consumers to choose nuts in preference to the typically less healthy alternatives.
Trend 2: Thirst for nut milks
A second trend is the drift away from dairy milks to nut milks. Again, consumers like the flavors and want the health benefits. And in response to consumers’ changing preferences and vegan trends, more nut-based products are appearing on supermarket shelves. Hence greater volumes of nuts – particularly almonds, cashews and macadamias – are being processed not only for sale as whole foods, but also for use in milks. This means that processors must accurately grade nuts so that they can be separated for different uses.
Trend 3: Snackification
A third trend, also seen in well-developed markets, is consumers abandoning the traditional habit of eating ‘three square meals per day’ and instead eating small amounts of food more frequently. In the last five years the value of the global sales of snacks has rocketed from about $94bn to $138bn, and is still going up. This trend is so strong that marketeers and product planners have coined a name for it: ‘snackification’. But whatever you call it, the result is increasing volumes of nuts being hurried along processing lines.
Trend 4: Developing nations
The fourth trend, and potentially the most significant, is emerging quickly and strongly in developing nations. This is purchasing power. Nuts are not the cheapest of foods, but thanks to the expanding economies in Asia, many more people can now afford to buy them. In China alone, approximately 400 million people now belong to middle-class households, and that number is continually
increasing. As illustration of China’s consuming power, this nation produces 40% of the global supply of walnuts, but consumes all of these and imports more. In the five years to 2017, imports to China of pecans increased by 75%, hazelnuts by 329%, and peanuts by 580%.
Trend 5: Cosmetics sales
The fifth trend is the global increase in the sales of cosmetic products, many containing nut oils. Cosmetic products that were once considered expensive luxuries in developing nations are now thought of as affordable everyday necessities. Skincare products lead the growth, and in 2018 the Asia Pacific region became the biggest buyer of these, accounting for approximately 40% of the global market.
This, then, is a time of plenty. There are plenty of opportunities for nut processors to increase turnover and profitability, but also plenty of challenges. Throughput has to increase. Quality has to rise. Efficiency has to improve by using more of the lower-grade nuts that might previously have been discarded.
Achieving all of these objectives will be difficult or impossible without the latest optical- and sensor-based sorting technologies. With TOMRA Food’s technologies, however, it is all achievable. And necessary.