It’s official—the world has gone nuts for plant-based protein. By 2030, the global plant protein market is predicted to reach a staggering $162 billion USD in value, according to recent data from Bloomberg Intelligence. Market commentators are attributing this meteoric growth to two key consumer trends: increasing environmental awareness and the quest for improved health and wellness. Fueled by daily reports on the climate crisis and their experiences during the worst global health crisis in a century, consumers are searching for options that do good for the planet as well as their bodies. For many, plant-based products fit the bill. But while people are looking for less in terms of fat, sugar and emissions, they still expect brands to provide more when it comes to sensory experiences.
Delivering exceptional flavor and texture, along with an attractive nutritional and environmental profile—now that’s a challenge. Nut flours and protein powders are delicious, nutritious and sustainable, offering food producers a truly all-round ingredients solution. These versatile ingredients can play an important role in addressing three key trends currently shaping purchasing decisions.
Hunting for a health halo
The pandemic has transformed the way consumers think about health—particularly when it comes to food choices. Driven by the new trend for holistic health and wellness, Mintel reports that ‘quick fix’ diets are fading in popularity in favor of wholesome eating experiences which nourish the mind as much as they fuel the body. With their attractive nutritional credentials, eco-friendly positioning and flavor boosting benefits, nut flours dovetail neatly with consumers’ mindful consumption goals, helping manufacturers achieve the coveted ‘health halo’ effect, without compromising a product’s taste or texture.
A perfect example of the value nut flours can bring to formulations can be seen in bakery products, such as cookies, crackers and cakes. In these applications, nut flours don’t just replace traditional wheat flours, but also provide a good source of unsaturated fats, fiber, protein and micronutrients like magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc. Specific nut varieties can also be used to create unique flavor, color and texture profiles depending on the application. Neutral tasting almond flour, for example, is perfect for delicately flavored cakes or savory crackers, while the more distinctive nutty taste of cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts deliver a rich, earthy flavor that adds indulgent sensory appeal to premium baked goods and desserts.
Added nutritional value is not the only way nut-based ingredients can help make products healthier. Nut protein powders—alternatives to nut flours which are made by cold-pressing whole nuts—can be used to create high-protein, gluten-free snacks with up to 60% less fat and 25% fewer calories compared with conventional nut flours. This high protein content, combined with a low glycemic index, makes nut protein powders ideal for formulating low-carb products for the growing number of consumers following a keto or paleo diet. What’s more, these powders provide a healthier alternative to the hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) and sugar commonly featured in cream fillings for baked goods or vegan chocolate spreads. With this wide range of health-giving functionalities, nut flours and protein powders can help brands transform guilty-pleasures into ‘better-for-you’ treats, complete with a glowing health halo.
Powering up plant-based protein content
Once the preserve of athletes, fitness enthusiasts and nutrition experts, today well over a third of global consumers state they want to increase their protein consumption, according to FMCG Gurus data. People aren’t just looking for protein at any cost; highly aware of the impact animal-derived products can have on the environment, more than half are seeking to get their protein fix from plant-based sources, FMCG Gurus adds. Offering a higher protein content than traditional wheat flour nut flours and protein powders are again the ideal ingredient to address consumer demands.
For brands looking to maximize protein content, almond protein powder is the way to go, offering 35-41g per 100g of product—almost four times that of conventional wheat flour. Unlike other plant-based protein sources like soya or pea, almond protein powders combine a high protein content with a neutral flavor profile, avoiding the ‘beany’ taste that can turn consumers away.
While not quite matching the protein content of almonds, cashew protein powders provide their own unique application advantages. An extra-fine grind and subtle, nutty flavor allows for the creation of melt-in-the-mouth vegan cookies or crisp, clean-tasting extruded or ‘puffed’ snacks. The result—indulgent, satisfying products that are packed with flavor, as well as much sought-after plant-based protein.
Compared with just a few years ago, the availability of gluten-free products has increased exponentially. By 2026, Allied Market research projects the global free-from food market will reach US$161.2 billion, showing consumer demand for these products is not set to slow any time soon.
Naturally-gluten free and keto-friendly, nut flours and protein powders support everything from a celiac-friendly, to a low-carb product positioning. Beyond simply replacing wheat flour in a formulation, nut-based ingredients like these also provide unique functional benefits that can improve the overall quality of free-from products. Almond protein powder for instance, can help retain moisture in recipes to avoid the dry, chalky texture that can often develop in wheat-free baked goods.
The versatility of nut flours also means they work well in combination with other gluten-free flours or even as an addition to wheat-based products where gluten is essential for achieving a chewy texture, such as in pizza dough. With so many potential applications, nut flours and protein powders allow manufacturers to broaden their product portfolios and appeal to a wider consumer base, hungry for more satisfying free-from snacks.
Powerful ingredient potential—in a nutshell
As the old saying goes: consumers want it all. This statement is even more true in the current context, with many searching for products that align with their goals for more holistic health and wellbeing, as well as their personal values surrounding sustainability. For consumers of all age groups, transparent and traceable sourcing is also an increasingly important purchasing driver; a 2020 report from IBM states 71% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for ‘full traceability’. By incorporating ethically and sustainably sourced nut flours or protein powders into their formulations, manufacturers can already check off a robust nutritional profile, natural, traceable product positioning and great taste, all with one high-quality ingredient. In this way, naturally nutritious nut flours really are the perfect ‘all round’ ingredient solution for today’s food and beverage market.
John Martin is the VP global innovation – Nuts, and Teresa Polli is senior marketing director – Nuts, with olam food ingredients (ofi), a new operating group from Olam International. ofi offers sustainable, natural, value-added food products and ingredients, with a global value chain presence across the cocoa, coffee, dairy, nuts and spices businesses. ofi partners with customers, leveraging its complementary and differentiated portfolio of ‘on-trend’ food products, to co-create solutions that anticipate and meet changing consumer preferences as demand increases for healthier food that’s traceable and sustainable.
Editor’s note: Looking for more information on alternative protein sources? Click here to download a free report: Alternative proteins drive nutraceutical innovation.