A protein-packed opportunity
In a category that’s all good-tasting, plant-based nutrition that provides bang for the buck protein-wise, nut butter varieties are popping up to fill all sorts of niches.
For the price-conscious, nothing beats mass-produced peanut butter. For the purity-conscious, there is natural peanut butter made without added oil (partially hydrogenated or otherwise), though it separates and requires stirring. Almond butter is more naturally sweet, reducing the need for added sugars. Seed butters don’t trigger peanut and other tree nut allergies. For on-the-go consumers and athletes, there are single-serve packs. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s any number of nut butters with added maple syrup, chocolate, hazelnut spread and other dessert-y additions.
Variety itself is a trend in the food business, said Diane Longanbach, a Michigan State University (MSU) extension educator and an MSU product center innovation counselor. Longanbach works with start-up food and value-added agriculture companies in 17 Michigan counties to assess their development phase and to provide guidance in product development, business planning, processing, labeling, pricing and other advice.
Nutrition-packed nut butters and seed butters are being marketed to athletes and health and fitness-oriented consumers “because they are a protein and a (good) fat bomb,” Longanbach said. They are also a natural for kids and smoothie lovers.
Overall, “more and more consumers, it seems, want a meat alternative,” Longanbach noted. “Nut spreads have an opportunity to grow beyond breakfast and the sports world into other uses for fueling in-between meals.”
Seed butters have the potential to take off as an alternative for people with peanut and tree nut allergies, Longanbach added.
Naturally Nutty Foods in Williamsburg, Mich., makes small batch, gourmet, organic and natural pumpkin seed butter, sunflower seed butter, peanut butter and almond butter in a variety of flavors. The company’s butters contain organic ground flaxseed and hemp seeds and chia seeds for a nutritional boost.
Katie Kearney, a vegan mom who wanted healthier, purer versions of peanut butter for her family, developed her own recipes and founded Naturally Nutty along with husband Tim Kearney in 2007. She serves as company president and Tim serves as vice president for the company, which offers products for private brands.
The company’s health-forward nut and seed butters are made without using additional oils and with a short list of ingredients, which their customers appreciate, Tim Kearney said. Naturally Nutty also keeps the use of added salt and organic sugar in its butters to a minimum. “Our benchmark is 5 grams of sugar or less per two tablespoons [a typical serving], Kearney said. “We have some products with 1 gram or zero grams” of sugar per serving.
Seed butters have been Naturally Nutty’s fastest-growing product category, Kearney said. “The seed butters have a good flavor and texture. We have a lot of customers who prefer sunflower butter to peanut butter,” he added.
Because people are so used to peanut butter, it can be difficult to get them to try another type, Kearney admitted. That’s why sampling is so vital. Consumers who try alternatives sometimes find they prefer the subtler flavor of non-peanut butters, he said.
Adding flavors to nut and seed butters is a good product differentiator for private label, Kearney added. “If you can do some flavors, even if they’re milder flavors, those are always nice additions."
Naturally Nutty makes flavored butters, including organic honey-roasted cinnamon peanut butter, organic vanilla peanut butter, butter toffee peanut butter and cherry butter toffee peanut butter, among others.
Packaging has a lot to do with a product’s success, both to attract the consumer at the shelf and to facilitate the consumption itself, Longanbach noted.
“We encourage companies to put as much money into graphic artwork as possible and sample the heck out of [the product] in stores,” she said, adding that sampling allows retailers to tell their stories and put a face to their products.