Pecans Drove Snack Nut Growth In 2021


Washington — With 98 percent of consumers reporting that they snack daily and 48 percent saying they are snacking more since the start of the pandemic, consumers are increasingly looking for wholesome snack options, driving strong interest in snack nuts.

Plant-based and high in protein and other nutrients, snack nuts are seen as permissible and healthful by consumers, says Anne-Marie Roerink, of 210 Analytics, LLC. Additionally, consumers are seeking out snacks that are aligned with their individual diet preferences, whether vegan, vegetarian, high-protein or low-carb.

Snack nuts, excluding seeds and corn nuts, generated $5.2 billion in sales in 2021, according to data from Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). This is an increase of 2.2 percent versus 2020 and 5.3 percent versus 2019.

Consumers have shifted to slightly larger pack sizes as unit sales for snack nuts are down 1.5 percent, while volume (pound) in up 0.7 percent versus 2021. Snack nuts did particularly well in the convenience channel in 2021, with dollars up 9.6 percent versus 2020.

Dollar sales$5.1B$62M
Dollar gains vs. 2020 & 20192.6% | 5.3%12.2% | 16.9%
Unit sales1.2B12.2M
Unit gains vs. 2020 & 2019-1.5% | -9.7%7%  | 7.3%
Volume sales (in pounds)821M5.8M
Volume gains vs. year ago0.7% | 4.6%11.6% | 18.2%
Source: IRI, MULO+C, 52 weeks ending 12/26/2021

But not all nuts enjoyed equal popularity in 2021, Roerink points out. Small but mighty, pecans reached more than $62 million in sales in 2021, IRI reports. This was an increase of 12.2 percent versus 2020 with an equally strong performance in volume, up 11.6 percent.

This made pecans the fastest growing nut. Mixed nut combinations also were popular. Macadamia nut dollar sales were down 7.6 percent versus a year ago, almonds decreased 6.8 percent and peanut sales dropped 4.3 percent versus 2020. In addition to snacking, pecan sales also benefited from the baking trend.

Today’s consumers also crave multi-sensory experiences, which nuts are providing with adventurous, bold but also nostalgic flavor combinations, says Roerink. As such, retailers are stocking nuts with teriyaki, wasabi, chocolate espresso, chili pepper and Harissa flavor alongside nostalgic offerings including sugar and cinnamon. The variety of flavors addresses seasonal as well as generational preferences and the innovation helps drive category engagement.

The multi-sensory demand has also driven formats including the bento box, which has an emphasis on protein and other healthful, whole-food ingredients. This is where almonds shine, often in combination with cheese, turkey, ham, apple slices or grapes.

At the same time, consumers are taking a more holistic approach to health, counting both physical health and emotional wellbeing among their key priorities, according to Roerink. This holistic approach invites innovations with nuts in combination with chocolate, honey and other sweet additions beyond the functional delivery of protein and other nutrients.