How The Conscious Consumer Is Disrupting the Nut Butter Industry

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The ‘conscious consumer’ has been disrupting the food industry for decades. It’s no longer enough to just eat to live – consumers want it to mean something and they want to feel good while doing it.

In particular, the nut butter industry has come a long way from Skippy and Jif dominating the US market. There are new players in town, diversifying their offerings and appealing to consumers on new levels; health, convenience, sustainability, animal welfare and even social responsibility.

For today’s consumer, their choice of peanut butter speaks to their ethical ‘wokeness’.

Growing by 11% from 2015 to 2016, the UK’s peanut butter market continues to welcome global brands such as Skippy and Calvé, into the mix. And, big name manufacturers, as well as smaller ‘luxury’ brands are diversifying their flavour options to reflect the adventurous tastes of today’s consumer.

However, the new norm trumps classic favourites, instead exploring sweet, salty, savoury and spiced; consumers want options to delight, intrigue and challenge them. The trend is one which bigger brands with greater resources are investing in through the introduction of innovative flavors and packaging, while newcomers are proving to be better positioned to specialise and take risks.

It’s the ‘disruptive marketers’, such as Pip & Nut and Rude Health, who are diversifying their products, turning consumer taste buds, and switching up the classic ‘smooth vs. crunchy’ debate to ‘coconut almond vs. maple cashew’.

In the US, Naturally More launched a new line of nut butters with added probiotics and flax, giving consumers more bang for their buck. Their ‘all-natural’ persona promises no artificial sweeteners, in favour of coconut sugar.

And, with the rise of nut butter, the industry has taken on an anywhere, anytime and on-the-go mentality. Convenience and portability are a massive priority and the market is responding with squeeze packs and single-serve offerings.

Snacking between meals is increasingly ‘en vogue’, as is the desire to incorporate more protein into consumers’ diets, while keeping it simple, affordable, and preferably plant-based. Couple that with an overall increase in disposable income for the average consumer, and the possibilities become endless.

Yet, when it comes to protein, consumer focus is multidimensional; it’s all about quality and source, with less emphasis on how much and more on where from. Consumers want to know how their products get from source to table, taking into consideration factors such as animal welfare, sustainability and the environment.

Meridian Foods claims to be the first UK nut butter brand to launch a line with 100% nuts, no palm oil, sweeteners or salt, but beyond that, the brand recognises the need to nab the conscious consumer on a deeper level.

Taking it a step further with its ‘Rainforest Pledge Meridian is investing real dollars into the protection of rainforests, orangutans and other primates. The brand’s support of the Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation has already seen the adoption and rehabilitation of 13 orangutans.

As animal products continue to be cast in an unflattering light, consumption of traditional protein sources, such as meat, eggs and dairy are lagging. A phenomenon known as the ‘Flexitarian Effect’ or ‘part-time’ vegetarian, is on the rise as conscious consumers favour nuts as a healthy, vegan and generally more affordable alternative.

Rude Health porridge pots

Image: Rude Health

Consumer-favorite brand Rude Health is also branching out; take, for example, its new, single serve Porridge Pots with the option of almond or hazelnut butter –– “a creamy finish to the pots… satiating without being [too]sweet.”

According to a brand rep, the new initiative “moves into convenience without cutting corners [on]taste or quality of ingredients… [and]the possibilities go beyond porridge.”

Perhaps the least traditional and most innovative trend is the introduction of powdered peanut butter. With 85-90% less fat and nearly a quarter of the calories, it appeals to the active, health-conscious consumer, without sacrificing on taste, fiber or protein.

It might be versatile and trendy, however powdered peanut butter hasn’t won over ‘whole food’ advocates quite yet. The product has been knocked for containing added sugars and salt, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

So, what’s next for the nut butter industry? Looks like full speed ahead, especially in the UK, where the traditionally US-based staple is widening in the British market.

Pip & Nut, the UK poster child for adventurous nut butters, identifies creativity as one of their core brand values: “Fundamentally what it boils down to [is], consumers want to be surprised and delighted by their food, it’s one of life’s simple pleasures after all, so we like to innovate with new and exciting flavours to keep people coming back,” says Founder, Pippa Murray.

“As a challenger brand we look to innovate and bring what is an incredibly traditional category back to life [by being a]playful brand, as well as [introducing] ‘niche’ products like almond butter. I’m a firm believer in playing in these niche areas, and catching a trend before it goes mainstream is the key to launching a successful business… [and]providing consumers with something they need or desire,” she elaborates.

The nuttiness doesn’t stop there. The quintessential entrepreneurial spirit of Pip & Nut continues to pave its way as a “challenger brand” in a relatively tired market by rolling out a new ‘Limited Edition’ flavour every 8 months.

Whole Earth Foods nut butter

Image: Whole Earth Foods

In 2016, Whole Earth Foods invested a whopping £2 million in promotional activities, specifically targeted at London and the South East. Their goal? To position nut butter as a natural source of protein and fiber, comparative to traditional dairy or animal-based options.

Much like Rude Health and their Porridge Pots, an increasing number of brands are stepping into new, nut butter-inclusive arenas; such as nut and protein bars.

Meridian Foods stake their claim to the first ever nut butter brand to move into the ‘healthy snack sector’. They now offer 6 nut bar varieties, from traditional ‘Peanut’, all the way to ‘Peanut & Berry’ and ‘Cashew’. These are all important differentiators in an increasingly saturated market.

With so much variety to look forward to, in order to succeed brands must step up their game to truly delight consumer tastes and values. But, market awareness is crucial.

Over-diversifying could push consumers away, with excessively exotic or strange concepts, such as powdered peanut butter, which is perhaps still too niche. And, with classic peanut butter still viewed as a standard, affordable product, the new challenge for brands will be changing consumer opinion to accept nut butter’s position within the premium, gourmet category.

As demand for nuts and nut butters rise, keeping a keen eye on production costs is also wise. The demand for alternative milk is yet another culprit for the increase in nut prices. And, as the popularity of plant-based snacks increases, as does their cost to produce, ultimately impacting the consumer sticker price.

Yet, when nearly 291 million out of 324 million Americans admit to having consumed peanut butter in 2016, it would seem the odds are definitely in nut butter’s favour.

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