Researching the health benefits of almonds

Health and wellness has become an over-arching trend within the F&B industry as consumers are now looking to food to support a more holistic approach to wellbeing. We interviewed Dr Karen Lapsley, Chief Scientific Officer at the Almond Board of California, to find out more about the connection between almonds, health, sustainability and the clean label trend.




Why do you think health and wellness has become so important to consumers in recent years?
‘Forbes published an article in January this year with the headline “wellness is the new luxury”. The essence of the piece spoke about how consumers are placing more value on health and wellness than on material objects and how the definition of health and wellness has evolved to reflect a more holistic approach that encompasses not only physical health, but mental and emotional too. Being able to achieve all three has become something of a badge of honour for consumers. Living a life where health and wellness are front and centre has become an aspirational thing for many people, and food plays a critical part in that.’

How important do you think health claims are for consumers when they make their purchasing decisions?
‘The California almond industry fully appreciates the power of nutrition / health claims and the continued growth in popularity of almonds as a snack can be attributed to the health halo that comes from being the most researched nut. As an organization, The Almond Board of California is committed to advancing public health and wellness by conducting sound science on the nutrient composition and health benefits of almonds.’
‘Our nutrition research comprises more than 150 published peer-reviewed studies to-date, and form part of a much bigger body of scientific evidence, which is independently reviewed. Together, this research supports that almonds, when eaten as part of a healthy diet, may have beneficial effects on heart health, diabetes and weight management. Independent studies (those not funded by the Almond Board) include the landmark PREDIMED study which assessed the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet, supplemented with tree nuts such as almonds, in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, concluding that eating this type of diet reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30%.’

Convenience is another hot trend. Is this something that complements the health trend? Or is it more challenging to blend the two?
‘Manufacturers have long been tasked with tackling innovation in new food products, as consumer demand continues to grow for products that are not only delicious, but are also nutritious and offer on-the-go convenience. Getting this right is the Holy Grail for food manufacturers and increasingly we are seeing that almonds are part of the solution because they satisfy so many consumer trends. Testament to almonds’ growing popularity is new data from Innova Market Insights that shows that California almonds were the number one nut used in new products worldwide in 2016, the tenth year that almonds have held the lead position for nuts used in new product introductions globally and the second year they have taken the top spot in Europe.’

The Almond Board of California claims that their almonds are a sustainable ingredient…can you explain why?
‘As the health benefits of eating almonds regularly have become more relevant to people the world over, our industry has grown into one of California’s largest and most important crops.  As a leader in California agriculture, we recognize that success isn’t possible without sustainability, which is why we’re committed to investing in new research, working with innovative partners and adopting more environmentally responsible farming practices.’
‘The California Almond community is a collection of family-run farms dedicated to innovation and responsibly producing a healthy food accessible to people around the world. We generate more than 100,000 jobs across California, and we’ve worked together to increase water efficiency by 33% over the last two decades. Everything the almond tree grows – kernels, hulls, shells and wood – we put to use, minimizing waste.’
‘We commit to continual improvements from the farm to our customer’s hands, being transparent about our sustainability journey and responsible stewardship of the land for the benefit of our families, communities and everyone who loves to eat almonds.’ 

How important is sustainability for the food industry? Why should companies consider implementing a sustainability strategy?
‘With the magnitude of the recent drought here in California, we have seen first-hand how climate variability has the potential to impact food production on a large scale. For an industry that relies so heavily on natural resources – water, healthy soils, air quality, etc. – sustainability is paramount to producing a safe and stable supply of food for people around the world. That’s why the California Almond community is exploring how California’s almond orchards can be leveraged to replenish underground aquifers. This act will support water sustainability in California, benefiting both farmers and communities alike.’

What are your predictions in general for the F&B industry in 3-5 years’ time?
‘We’re already seeing growing consumer desire for ‘clean’ products that are safe, sustainable and shelf stable and this is a trend we expect to see amplified over the next couple of years. While the trend towards clean and clear labelling is not new, it continues to change and is fast becoming a dominant force in new product development of snacking products. A key part of this trend is consumers’ growing interest in the sustainable and ethical sourcing of food ingredients, which has meant that basic clean claims like “natural” and “organic” and “non-GMO” are starting to evolve to include claims referring to clean-label ingredients and cleaner formulations. Almonds are perfectly placed to cater to this trend.’

Karin Lapsley will be participating in two panel discussions at the Fi Europe 2017 Conference:

  • How can F&B companies develop products to meet the ‘healthy convenience’ trend?’ during the Health & Wellness Session on Wednesday, 29th November 2017 10:50-14:00.
  • ‘Is the food industry doing enough to support sustainability?’ during the Master Class: Sustainability on Thursday, 30th November 11:00–14:00.