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Not too long ago, private label foods and beverages were simply known as inexpensive imitations of everyone’s favorite branded products. My how times have changed. Today, private label store brands, such as Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value and Target’s Archer Farms, are considered innovative, high quality and in some cases, premium.

And, the segment is growing. According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), private label market share has reached nearly 25% of unit sales in the U.S. and is expanding faster than national brands. In total, the category accounts for more than $129 billion in retail sales.

The California Walnut Commission recently attended the Private Label Trade Show, which is held in Chicago every year and is the largest private label show in the United States. We walked the trade show floor sampling foods and beverages from more than 1,500 companies from 40 countries.

What did we see? A lot of opportunities for walnuts in a wide variety of products ranging from snacks to functional foods to plant-based meat alternatives. We also tasted some amazing made-with-walnut products that food manufacturers debuted at the show.

After two days of sampling and talking about walnuts, it became clear these three trends will be the main topics of conversations among private label manufacturers in 2020.

Snacking Isn’t Just for Between Meals

Three square meals a day doesn’t fly with today’s consumers, who value snack time in the morning, afternoon and at night. According to a recent study from Innova Market Insights, snack consumption during meal time, or to replace meal time, is growing at lunch (23%), dinner (17%) and breakfast (8%).

Americans’ love affair with snacking was on display at the Private Label show with countless exhibitors promoting sweet, salty, savory and spicy snacks. Walnuts are the perfect fit for this category, either as a standalone snack or as part of a trail mix. One such brand on display at the show was Pear’s Gourmet, which is the home for a roster of seasoned nut products. The brand’s Maple Cinnamon Apple Walnuts are clusters of walnuts and apple bits seasoned with a natural maple flavor.

Take Two Bites of this Functional Food and Call Me in the Morning

Functional foods and beverages have increased in popularity as consumers turn to whole food nutrition to supplement or complement vitamins and medicines. Walnuts are the ideal ingredient in functional foods because they are the only tree nut to provide a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based essential omega-3 fatty acid (2.5g/oz. They also contain protein (4g/oz), fiber (2g/oz), and magnesium (45mg/oz).

The Nature’s Garden brand from Cibo Vita has capitalized on the ALA omega-3 content of walnuts by making them a key ingredient in the company’s Omega-3 Deluxe Mix, which also features cranberries and pepitas.

Pizza with Plant Based California Walnut Crumble

The Next Generation of Plant-based Meat Alternatives

Did you know that two-thirds of Americans have said they purchased a meat alternative product? So says an Innova Marketing Insights consumer survey, which is just one of countless data points that point to the explosive growth of the plant-based meat alternative marketplace. At the Private Label Trade Show, there were several companies sampling meat-free beef and chicken alternatives.

It’s our job to know what’s going on in the marketplace, so we felt obligated to taste them all. Although there were some respectable options, we felt they all were too “mushy” and lacked the texture of a meat-based product. Simply put, they all needed walnuts! Walnuts are a perfect formulation tool for plant-based meat alternatives because they provide texture and a subtle, savory flavor. Plus, they are easy to formulate with, often just requiring a mix with a chickpea or black bean. For inspiration, check out the Usage Inspiration page on walnuts.org.

We look forward to attending next year’s Private Label Trade Show and discovering how many additional food and beverage manufacturers have used walnuts to satisfy consumer demands.

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