One of the recent trends in confectionery and gourmet has been for plant-based products that have a strong appeal to many younger consumers who are buying into categories that offer health and sustainability benefits.
Speciality nut expert La Morella Nuts, owned by Barry Callebaut since 2012, has announced a global expansion after decades of experience in Mediterranean nut craft in Spain.
Between 2015 and 2019 the amount of nut-based vegan drinks, desserts and frozen desserts launches has tripled. In western Europe over the next five years dairy-free ice cream is expected to grow by 13% and dairy free drinks are expected to grow by 10%, said Philippe Janvier, Barry Callebaut Vice President of specialities and decorations EMEA.
“Today, nuts are very relevant for the consumer. Historically, it was more in confectionery, bakery, pastry and ice cream market segments. But now nuts are more and more used in plant-based applications. They can be used to replace milk, but also to bring great taste, texture and nutrition,” he said at a press conference to announce La Morella’s new Global Centre of Expertise for nuts in Reus, Spain.
Tapping into a rapidly growing market for brands and artisans in need for healthier indulgence and plant-based products around the world, the state-of-the art centre combines expertise in taste and texture, sourcing and sustainability, as well as application knowledge.
The brand also welcomes academics and nuts associations to the centre to further develop and broaden the knowledge about nuts.
Pablo Perversi, Chief Innovation, Sustainability & Quality Officer and Global Head of Gourmet at Barry Callebaut, said. “We look a lot into the future and one of the things we see is that younger generations are looking more and more for what we call the triple play: things that are good for nature, things that are nutritionally good, and things that have a great taste," he explained at a digital launch event. "La Morella Nuts plays in this triple play extremely well. It is globally supporting that natural extension of trends with our customers and consumers.”
Sustainability, in all its commodities, plays a crucial role in Barry Callebaut’s DNA and comes under Perversi’s direct responsibility. The company has set out its sustainability agenda in its ‘Forever Chocolate’ initiative (a new report is due out on 3 December) and, Perversi said, the targets set for cocoa extend to nuts.
“In Forever Chocolate, we said we wanted to make sustainable chocolate the norm and that is 100% of the ingredients. Nuts are a very important ingredient of chocolate and therefore we are committed to containing nuts which are sustainable as well.”
The challenges facing nut production are different from the big issues in cocoa, he said. “The two biggest things we want to tackle are that there is a water shortage in Mediterranean regions and also that pollinator [populations], which... help make the fruit and create that lovely tasting nut, are going down…These are the two big things we will be concentrating on in sustainability with La Morella.”
Speaking exclusively to ConfectioneryNews, Perversi said the company realised that all of a sudden it had an asset that is valuable in terms of current trends in plant-based and vegan, etc, and its nut centre required the expertise to expand into new markets while enhancing the connection to chocolate.
The Gobal Centre of Expertise offers an immersive virtual and physical journey from the Mediterranean nut orchards to the consumer application. With the use of the Nut Sensory Language customers learn how to differentiate taste, texture and flavour in nut experiences.
La Morella Nuts will see operations increase in Europe and Asia Pacific from this autumn with expansion into the North American market slated for 2021.
Thomas Mulvihill, Barry Callebaut’s VP Marketing North America, said the intended expansion in the US will add to the facilities already established in his region.
“We’re not starting from scratch, we have brilliant nut craftsmanship here, with our American Almond business. What La Morella brings is an opportunity to expand and reach new segments, bringing solutions to ice cream and beverages, for example.”
Mulvihill said the trend in the US has historically been centred on speciality bakeries, but with the consumer now rapidly moving towards plant-based, vegan lifestyles it can take inspiration from La Morella and build on its business in the Americas - and innovation is at the very front of the push.
Post COVID, Mulvihill said he sees plant-based and dairy free being particularly strong trends, spanning restaurants and into the retail aisles.
“There’s also a lot of excitement in home baking, there’s been a massive revival in the discovery of the fun and innovation. Home baking is really cool and I think the pandemic will pass, but consumer behaviours are here to stay and a whole new generation of home bakers are learning about how to use chocolate in new and different ways as an everyday experience,” he said.
Perversi said the creative juices at Barry Callebaut continue to flow “with lots of opportunities to crack”. He said that 25% of lifestyle choices in younger people is dairy free and it’s the company’s aim to be the first on trend for every new opportunity the market presents.
“We will continue going strong until we feel we have all the trends covered, that we can bring excitement to the categories and every once in a while revolutionise the world of chocolate with things like Ruby or Wholefruit chocolate,” he said.
Although the gourmet side of the business took a hit with sales down 14% this year because of the COVID pandemic forcing many retail businesses to close during lockdowns, Perversi is looking for a “progressive recovery” in the sector as restrictions ease.
“Clearly there are still challenges, but we are still gaining share in the market,” he said.
- Barry Callebaut will release its Forever Chocolate Progress Report 2019/20 on 3 December 2020.