Did you know 99% of the walnuts in the United States are grown in the fertile soils of California’s Central Valley? Although walnuts are historically known for their place in premium baking, the iconic nut is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in packaged foods outside the baking aisle. And, despite a history of being overshadowed by other nuts like almonds and cashews, walnuts are a household staple. In the 2018-19 crop year, 191 million pounds of walnuts were consumed in the U.S. alone. They also add flavor, texture and nutrition to a wide variety of snack and health foods.
A whole food that’s part of the plant-based movement
It doesn’t matter if you identify as a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian, plant-based food sales are trending. In the past year alone sales have jumped 11%, reaching a total market value of $4.5 billion, according to figures released by The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA).
In addition, refrigerated plant-based meat alternative sales grew, increasing by 37%. With this increased demand combined with consumer demand for more whole foods, consumers will only continue to be interested in plant-based meat alternatives made from a food like walnuts. Because walnuts are a softer nut, when paired with a binder like legumes and spices for flavor, they can make a great plant-based taco meat or plant-based burger patty.
Plant-based milk now makes up 13% of total retail milk sales, having grown by 6% in the past year. It seems very likely consumers will become increasingly interested in milk products made from walnuts with this increase in demand for plant-based milk. Walnuts can also be made into a luxurious plant-based cream, when blended with just water, a perfect dairy-free thickener for soups and sauces.
Walnuts are a big opportunity
In a 2019 consumer survey, taste was cited as the #1 reason for consuming walnuts. In addition, 90% of consumers recognize walnuts as a healthy food and 78% said the health benefits positively impacted their purchase decision. Walnuts are a whole food contributing many beneficial nutrients to the diet.
Packed with good fats—they are the only nut with a significant source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) at 2.5 grams per ounce. These good fats are essential to many of the body’s processes, and walnuts are a good source of protein, fiber, and magnesium, making them a great ingredient for health foods. Walnuts are a heart-healthy* food, certified through the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check program, and are recognized as an excellent way to improve overall diet quality.
Walnut products that are trending
According to a 2019 survey, 73% of consumers said they would purchase a product with walnuts. Walnuts have recently been used to satisfy consumer’s cravings for products that tick both the healthful and indulgent boxes.
For example, RXBAR launched a Banana Chocolate Walnut Bar, positioned as “banana bread in the shape of a protein bar”.
Walnuts were also at the center of a recent plant-based meat alternative by Azar Nuts. At this year’s National Restaurant Association Show, the company launched “it’s nature Walnut Crumbles” a product that can be used as a meat-alternative to chorizo or hamburgers.
And in the dairy aisle, Mariani Walnut Milk and Elmhurst Milked Walnuts tout the amount of omega-3 fatty acids per serving on the packaging to enhance the marketability of the product. As consumers are growing savvier about the benefits of omega-3’s, manufacturers are also using these claims in walnut butters, granola, trail mix and seasoned walnut snacks.
Flavor, quality, and nutrition. Rarely do you see these three attributes together in one ingredient. Walnuts provide them all in diverse food and beverage applications.
Interested in learning more about using California walnuts in your product creations? Learn more.
*Per one ounce serving. Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, March 2004.