a plate of food

Nuts and Berries: The Most Accessible Plant-Based Foods

Natural Products Expo East featured these 2 plant-based stalwarts as complementary ingredients in a variety of healthier products, as well as separately
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Goldschmidt profile picture
Nuts and Berries: The Most Accessible Plant-Based Foods
Many nut offerings at Natural Products Expo East featured savory profiles, among them Sahale Snacks' Bean + Nut snack mixes.

At the recent Natural Products Expo East, which made its triumphant in-person return late last month at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, in Philadelphia, plant-based foods were widespread, but two receiving less of a buzz in recent years are among the most easily accessible: nuts and berries. Separately, they make for admirably healthy snacks or recipe ingredients nuts are good sources of fiber, antioxidants, protein and healthy fat, while berries are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, to name just a few of the attributes of each  but combined in such popular offerings as bars, granolas and trail mixes, they’re an unbeatable combination.

Nuts are one of the categories that has benefited from increased consumer interest in snacks as meal replacements, with multioutlet dollar sales of $4.6 billion for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 5, $104 million than the year-ago period, according to Chicago-based IRI, while multioutlet sales of baking nuts, although down 1.2% from last year’s home-baking frenzy amid COVID-19 lockdowns, were still a respectable $1.1 billion for the same time period. “However, pound sales are up 2.2%, which is one of the few areas within the baking aisle that is seeing growth,” notes Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of San Antonio-based 210 Analytics LLC. (While technically, peanuts are legumes, for culinary and nutritional purposes, they’re generally still classified as nuts, so they will be considered as such in this article.)

For their part, fresh berries emerged as a top seller during the pandemic as shoppers shifted to packaged produce, FMI - The Food Industry Association found in “The Power of Produce 2021” report. Further, according to August IRI multioutlet data, berries were first on the list of the top 10 produce items in absolute dollar growth, with $55 million in absolute dollar gain, 8.0% dollar growth and total dollar sales of $745 million.

Further, with organic and natural products experiencing higher dollar growth than conventional products for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 8, 2021 2.2% and 5.9%, respectively, versus 1.9% according to IRI-powered research that Chicago-based SPINS presented during Expo East, offering organic and natural nut and berry products could unlock additional sales for grocers.

a stack of flyers on a table
Other savory nut profiles at Natural Products Expo East included several of Nutty Gourmet's roasted and seasoned walnut snacks.

Two of a Kind

Together, the two nutritional powerhouses showed up on the Expo East show floor as complementary flavors in various products. Among nutritional bars, offerings included Thunderbird’s Pecan Goji Pistachio Paleo superfood bar; the refrigerated Blueberry Banana Almond Core Bar; NuSkool’s Berry Muffin MCT Collagen Bar, made with almond butter and almonds; Fast Bar, created for intermittent fasters from such ingredients as pecans, macadamia nuts and almonds, in a Blueberry Açai flavor; Açai Roots’ Açai + Peanut Butter Superfood Bar; and the Dates and Peanut Butter FitNeed Protein Bar, offering a whopping 15 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber.

Other products included Eden Foods’ organic Wild Berry Mix, featuring dry-roasted pumpkin seeds, raw sunflower seeds, dry-roasted almonds, cranberries and wild blueberries, among other ingredients, and New England Naturals Cranberry Almond Granola Clusters.

a sign above a store
Products featuring nuts and berries were promoted at Natural Products Expo East as part of the rising food-as-medicine trend, including HealRight bars.

Just Nuts

Even on their own, nuts made an impressive showing on the expo floor, with Sahale Snacks displaying its new Bean + Nut snack mixes in such savory lower-sugar profiles as Creole and White Cheddar Black Pepper. Other offerings in this space include Recipe 33’s Garlic Dill, Black Truffle, Smoky Serrano and Lemon Rosemary almonds; Nichols Farms’ no-shell Garlic Garden Herbs and Jalapeño Lime Pistachios; Bubba’s Fine Foods Savory Keto Nut Mix, with almonds, walnuts and pecans; and Pizootz’s premium Virginia artisan peanuts in such flavors as Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper and the rather daunting Inferno (featuring habanero, Carolina reaper and malagueta peppers), as well as the brand’s Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper Pecans. 

As an added bonus, Recipe 33 and Pizootz offer nuts infused with flavor rather than coated with it, so there’s no messy residue to get on snackers’ hands. Innovation was also on show at the Nutty Gourmet booth, where Tony Varni, VP of sales and marketing for the grower-owned company, explained that its roasted and seasoned walnut snacks including such spicy flavors as Buffalo, Chipotle and even Habanero undergo a dry-steam pasteurization process to reduce phytic acid. Nutty Gourmet also makes a range of nut butters far beyond the familiar peanut and almond: Besides walnut butter in several varieties, the brand offers pistachio and pecan praline butters.

SunRidge Farm had some particularly inventive flavors straddling the divide between sweet and savory, among them Chile Lime Almonds with New Mexico red chile, Maple Mustard Cashews, and Sea Salt and Apple Cider Vinegar Cashews.

Offering nuts in a different form were Sunny Fruit’s Have A Ball line of organic coconut-coated fruit-and-nut snacks, including two functional SKUs, Fig & Walnut With Prebiotics and Cherry & Hazelnut With Protein; Pocket Latte’s Coffee Nuts, coffee- and chocolate-coated almonds in a Mocha + Sea Salt flavor, featuring 46% less sugar than the leading brand; and The GFB (Gluten-Free Bar) Bites in Banana + Nut and Dark Chocolate + Hazelnut varieties. 

Meanwhile, the folks at Moon Cheese, maker of a poppable all-cheese snack, have created their own take on the trail mix with a line of low-carb Protein Blitz Mixes in Crazy Cheesy (crunchy cheddar bites and whole roasted almonds) and Zesty Ranch (crispy gouda bites and crunchy pecan halves) varieties.

Nut-flavored granolas were in attendance at the show as well, including Purely Elizabeth’s Honey Peanut Butter Ancient Grain Granola clusters and Grain-Free Apple Walnut Keto Granola Clusters, and Lakanto’s no-sugar-added Cinnamon Almond Crunch Granola, sweetened with monk fruit.

Among the more intriguing nut-based products were Split, a double pouch featuring peanut butter and grape jelly in separate compartments meant to be kneaded, folded and eaten together; Octonuts almond and walnut protein powders, which can be used in a range of recipes; and Earth Nut, a plant-based burger made from peanuts, chickpeas and spices.

a screen shot of a video game
Berry flavorings were prevalent at Natural Products Expo East in many wellness products supporting immune health, while Eden Foods' Wild Berry Mix featured dry roasted almonds along with berries and seeds.

Berry Special

Meanwhile, berries featured in granolas such as New England Naturals’ Unsweetened Gluten-Free Strawberry Granola, Protein Blueberry Harvest Granola and Unsweetened Gluten-Free Berry Coconut Granola; Eden Foods’ dried blueberries, dried cranberries and Spicy Berry Mix consisting of seeds berries and raisins seasoned with cayenne pepper, garlic and Eden Tamari Soy Sauce; Upland’s freeze-dried super snack bites of strawberry, beet, quinoa, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds; That’s It. no-sugar-added fruit bars in Apples + Strawberries and Apples + Blueberries flavors; Fruit Haven’s CherryBerry blend of premium dried cherries, blueberries and cranberries; and Mush Ready-to-Eat Oats’ Blueberry and Strawberry flavors (the brand also offers a separate three-item line featuring nuts: Peanut Butter Swirl, Honey Nut and Vanilla Almond). 

Also, while fresh produce wasn’t a focus of the event, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) was on hand to promote its fresh offerings, including organic strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mixed berries for the produce section.

Interestingly, berry flavors were prevalent beyond the food and beverage offerings at Expo East, with many dietary supplements and other wellness products touting the inclusion of elderberry, açai, goji and other berries as part of the rising food-as-medicine trend, particularly when it comes to boosting the immune system, an growing area of concern. Among the items illustrating this movement were even some product lines that also featured nuts, like HealRight bars in such varieties as Peanut Butter Banana (digestive health) and Dark Chocolate Blueberry (gut health).