- U.S. chocolate-hazelnut product sales now exceed $420 million – up 6% from the prior year.
- Driving growth is the record 65% of U.S. consumers who say they want to buy more products featuring the rich, distinctive taste of hazelnuts.
- Freshness matters, according to food product developers, with 96% counting "consistent quality" as "very important" in sourcing hazelnuts.
Europe has a long-running love affair with the creamy, delicious combination of hazelnuts and chocolate, but Americans are fast catching up. U.S. sales grew 6% year-over-year through December 2019 across chocolate candy, spreads and nutrition bar categories alone. That added up to $421 million in sales, according to Nielsen retail data.
In the year ending March 21, the growth of hazelnut spreads quickened to 10%, a likely signal that consumers now consider these spreads pantry essentials.
Rising consumer demand – especially among millennials – continues to draw more companies and brands into the category. Already more than a dozen major food companies have hazelnut-chocolate products at retail, with 55 SKUs booking at least $1 million in annual sales, according to Nielsen data.
The pace may quicken yet, according to a survey of 25 food industry decision-makers, commissioned by Northwest Hazelnut Company. Fully 60% of executives projected increased demand extending over the next five to 10 years.
US hazelnut production ramping up
Consumers say they prefer products made from U.S.-grown nuts. To meet this demand, U.S. growers are gearing up production, which is expected to triple by 2024. In anticipation of bigger crops, the largest U.S. processor of hazelnuts has invested for over a decade in proprietary, state-of-the art technology, traceability and efficiencies designed to process the entire projected U.S. output of 80,000 to 100,000 tons.
Northwest Hazelnut Company's on-site, patented, "CoolSteam" pasteurization system achieved TERP certification, a standard developed for the almond industry. It is a buyer's assurance that every batch of hazelnuts will retain a taste, integrity, and nutritional value equivalent to raw nuts, with a crunchy texture and rich taste that can play a starring role in any product.
Hazelnut ingredient buyers can now rely on an increasingly well-developed and stable supply chain, ensuring year-round availability of nuts. Domestic processors now market up to 14 varieties in eight ingredient forms, from whole kernels to fine meal and paste – roasted or unroasted.
Careful handling, controlled-atmosphere storage and small-batch roasting on demand put the emphasis on freshness, the key to maximizing shelf life.
"In our study, and in our experience, buyers welcome help with custom specifications and innovative application ideas," said Rick Peterson, VP, Northwest Hazelnut, who has consulted with ingredient buyers for more than a decade.
Food makers will find ingredient samples available for product development purposes from U.S. hazelnut processors, who can also consult on specification, sourcing, marketplace data and innovative applications.