U.S. food makers are in a race to innovate for hazelnut products

Product development executives across the food industry widely recognize the potential for hazelnuts as a trending ingredient in packaged goods – especially among Millennials – according to a new study.

The spring 2019 survey of 25 food industry decision-makers, found a large majority (87%) had a “positive” opinion of hazelnuts. In addition, 40% said they were using more hazelnuts in their product than a few years ago. The in-depth interviews were commissioned by Northwest Hazelnut Company and conducted by Illuminate, an independent research firm with decades of experience tracking food and beverage industry attitudes. Most of the interviewed executives reported increased demand for hazelnuts over the last two to three years. The pace may quicken yet, as 60% of those polled projected increased demand extending over the next five to 10 years.

U.S. food makers are in a race to innovate in an underdeveloped U.S. market for hazelnut products. For inspiration, many look to hazelnut products in Europe, where generations of consumers have embraced the flavor, responding to food industry innovations, some becoming global sensations. American consumers show every indication of following in their footsteps, according to a recent study of American consumers that yielded a long list of product development insights. The findings can help interested companies shorten their product development timelines, while improving their odds of a marketplace hit.

Consumers surveyed were eager to try hazelnuts in many applications, but named as their top seven: mixed nuts or trail nuts, baked goods (cookies, muffins or bread), chocolate bars or candy, fruit and nut bars, salad dressings and granolas or cereals. Their favorite flavor combinations? Chocolate, caramel, coffee, vanilla, sea salt, and coconut – in that order. Combinations of these favorites might be especially potent and differentiating.

Many food makers are starting to work with hazelnut ingredients for the first time. They will find an increasingly well-developed and stable supply chain, with domestic processors now marketing up to 14 varieties in eight ingredient forms, from whole kernels to fine meal and paste – roasted or unroasted. 

Ingredient samples are available for product development purposes from Oregon suppliers, who can also consult on specifications, sourcing options and recommended applications.  

Suppliers are gearing up to meet a projected boom in domestic production since acreage has doubled in the past five years. At the current pace of expansion, Oregon hazelnut orchards will nearly triple in size to 80,000 acres in mature production by 2024.