Hazelnuts could be ready for a bigger role in food and beverages, according to a new survey reported by the Capital Press. Responses to a 2017 survey revealed 47% of people thought the nuts were "very healthy," nearly twice the number from a year earlier.
Consumers responded that they ate more whole hazelnuts now, with 33% of consumers in 2006 saying they had them once a month compared to 49% responding that way last year. It also found that 82% of the respondents in the most recent survey said they wanted to try them, according to the newspaper.
The survey found people don't view hazelnuts as being as expensive as some other nuts — macadamia nuts, pistachios and cashews were all perceived as costing more. As a result of their increasing profile, hazelnuts are gradually starting to appear in more SKUs, according to the survey, growing from 63 products in 2013 to 93 in 2015.
Hazelnuts enjoy a relatively high health score due to the iron, dietary fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats they contain. Similar to other tree nuts, they pack a lot of calories — 178 per ounce, according to Livestrong.com — but they also have 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of carbohydrates and 2.7 grams of dietary fiber in that same amount.
The survey identified the top hazelnut consumer as women 18 to 44 years of age, with higher incomes, college educations and children at home. This demographic tended to do more of the family shopping and also spent more per trip. In addition, these shoppers concentrated more on a store's perimeter, which provides some guidance on how retailers might position their hazelnut products for greatest exposure.
Hazelnuts have traditionally been more popular in Europe and other countries than in the U.S. However, Ferrero helped raise the nut's profile in this country with its popular Nutella spread and its Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies featuring a roasted hazelnut in the center.
Potentially playing to the hazelnut's advantage could be a growing "almond fatigue" due to that nut's continued prominence in the market, plus concern over the relatively large amount of water it takes to grow them. Consumers also like to switch things up from time to time and appreciate varied and interesting new flavors in nuts and other snack products.
Manufacturers have taken notice of this trend and responded with hazelnut milk, hazelnut spread, hazelnut-flavored coffee and chocolate bars with hazelnuts. Nestle has even debuted a hazelnut version of its Coffee-mate powdered coffee creamer.
Nearly all (99%) of the American crop comes from Oregon, where 67,000 acres are in production and more than 3,000 acres are being planted each year, according to the Oregon Hazelnut Industry. Local food makers have been making special products featuring the hazelnut. Rogue Ales debuted a new design for its Hazelnut Brown Nectar beer, Burgerville is featuring a Chocolate Hazelnut Milkshake, and Salt & Straw — a Portland-based ice cream manufacturer, has released Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge as one of its January flavors.
The hazelnut's health halo, higher profile and growing popularity are all assets for the industry, but there are some obstacles to future growth. Supply is one of them. Oregon's production is limited to about 40,000 tons each year, Larry George, president of George Packing Co. in Newberg, Oregon, told the Capital Press. Before food manufacturers can make a significant investment in new products containing the ingredient, he said that number needs to go up to about 60,000 tons — which he noted is quite possible during the next two or three years.
Turkey produces 70% of the world's supply, but since Oregon growers can ship their hazelnuts to East Coast manufacturers within a few days while Turkish suppliers need 45 to 60 days, the American product is better positioned for growth as the demand increases. With the Turkish crop prone to price volatility and production inefficiency, Ferrero is reportedly looking for a more reliable supply and is casting an eye toward Canada, Chile, Australia and the U.S. More potential good news came earlier this month after Ferrero announced it would purchase Nestle's U.S. chocolate business for nearly $3 billion, placing the hazelnut in an even better position for future growth.