When it comes to plant-based snacking, product developers are just getting started. According to Innova Market Insights, plant-based claims for global food and beverage launches are experiencing strong growth with a compound annual growth rate of 57% over the 2015 to 2019 period.
As a result of such growth, snack brands are wondering how to remain relevant—and deliver more healthful appeal—in an increasingly crowded category. Chef Christine Farkas, Innovation Lead and founder, IHeartFood Consulting, says to let almonds inspire innovation.
"Almonds are incredible foundations for plant-based snacking," she says. "With so many ingredient formats, textures, flavors— and the 6 grams of healthy plant-based protein per serving that consumers want— they make exploring plant-based snack opportunities really exciting."
To get a taste of Farkas' own plant-based snacking explorations, the Almond Board of California (ABC) peeked into her kitchen.
ABC: The fact that we're using terms like "plant-based" rather than "meatless," "vegan" or "vegetarian" says a lot about the category's expansion and its evolution. What does that term tell you about how the category has grown?
Farkas: "Plant-based" conveys a refreshing openness and richness that you see in this category. Moving in a plant-based direction lets consumers dive into emerging ingredients, and instead of being just a "diet," it creates new culinary adventures that enhance our lives nutritionally and experientially. It's encouraging to see so many plant-based options available today with no need to sacrifice anything— not taste, texture or variety, and certainly not nutrition.
ABC: Snacks are a plant-based bright spot. Any comments on why plant-based snacking has flourished— and why almonds inspire such snacking creativity?
Farkas: This category is a creative hotspot because we snack in many different ways every day. We snack for wellness— to get a quick burst of energy or a "pocket" of nutrition when we need it most. We also snack for convenience since a grab-and-go package or a single-serve energy bar is easier than a full meal.
Almonds are nutritional powerhouses, but they are also versatile and inspiring in culinary applications for their textures, flavors and formats. You can explore sweet and savory profiles and dive into nearly every category and cuisine.
ABC: There are 14 different almond ingredient formats at last count. Which are your favorites from a functionality and formulation standpoint?
Farkas: They're all fascinating to explore as a chef and developer. Whether whole, sliced, slivered, or diced, almonds give texture, bite and flavor to snacks. That flavor is enhanced when you roast the ingredients to bring out those nutty notes.
Almond milk and butter are highly functional in bringing taste, texture and nutrition to applications— like sauces and alt-dairy ice creams— where we'd never experienced almonds before.
But it's defatted almond protein powder that I've been exploring lately, especially in bars and bites.
ABC: Why is defatted almond flour, also known as almond protein powder, so fun to work with?
Farkas: Almond protein powder is a very neutral ingredient, so it blends well into a range of applications.
It has a slightly nutty, almost sweet-almond profile that's not as distinctive as some other plant proteins, but that adds just a hint of appealing flavor to whatever it's in—sweet or savory—while still letting other ingredients shine.
I'm trialing it a lot in beverages and bars, and the fact that it's easy to work with as an ingredient and blends smoothly into the applications is great, too. It makes bars chewy and beverages lush, with none of the chalky mouthfeel that some plant proteins have.
ABC: If you were to choose three key qualities that plant-based snacks need to succeed today, what would they be— and how do almonds deliver them?
Farkas: First, they must be delicious. They must meet or exceed sensory expectations and give consumers that sense of enjoyment so that the snacks keep drawing them back.
Second, nutrition is important. We're talking about clean labels, ingredients that consumers feel good about eating, and nutrients like protein, fiber and vitamin E that make a snack good for you.
We know almonds fit into so many convenient snack formats, so designing convenience into the package so consumers can grab them and go is essential.
If you lock in convenience, sensory and nutrition, you're creating a high-impact framework for innovation. And that's what almonds do. They make plant-based snacking easy for consumers, fun and completely satisfying.