Having a jar of peanut butter in the cupboard seems to be essential for the American way of life. Moms everywhere use it to whip together a meal that kids will enjoy. As those kids grow older, they make their own PB&J sandwiches as after-school snacks. Then, the jars of nutty goodness follow them to college dorm rooms as late-night fuel for midterm exams. When they have children, the cycle continues. It seems ingrained in our way of life.
While cultures all over the world have used peanuts and spreads, peanut butter is said to have started in America. As the story goes, in 1890, an unknown St. Louis physician supposedly encouraged the owner of a food products company, George A. Bayle Jr., to process and package ground peanut paste as a protein substitute for people with poor teeth who couldn't chew meat. Bayle used a meat grinder and sold peanut butter out of barrels for about 6 cents per pound. Around the same time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg used peanut butter as a vegetarian source of protein for his patients. He and his brother, W.K. Kellogg, earned a patent for the "Process of Preparing Nut Meal" in 1895. However, they soon turned to cereals and left the nut butter business.
Peanut butter was not gone, however. C.H. Sumner introduced peanut butter to the world at the Universal Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis by selling it at his concession stand. Krema Products Co. in Columbus, OH, began selling peanut butter in 1908 and is the oldest peanut butter company still in operation today. In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield received the first patent for a shelf-stable peanut butter. The oil he used didn't separate from the peanut butter, so the product could stay fresh for up to one year. Jif, the most popular brand of peanut butter today, was introduced by Procter & Gamble in 1958.
Since then, a lot has changed; peanuts are no longer the only nut butters on the block. Natural products stores carry almond, cashew, walnut, hazelnut, pecan and pistachio butters made with natural ingredients that are healthier than the conventional peanut butters from childhood. Instead of high-fructose corn syrup, these butters are mostly sweetened with cane juice, agave syrup or other natural sweeteners. And, instead of using partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to create a longer shelf life, many nut butters use palm oil, which is natural, but does not separate from the butter.
Some nut butters even carry functional ingredients, like omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs)usually in the form of flaxseedsand come in a variety of flavors, including maple, cinnamon, chocolate and honey. Yes, nut butters have changed, but what has stayed the same is consumer love and loyalty.
There is a relationship with peanut butter and there is an intrinsic consumer behavior to buy it, said Bob Coyle, marketing team leader, National Peanut Board. It goes back to the strength of peanut butter in all of our lives. Our research shows more than 80 percent of consumers dont just like the taste of peanut butter, they actually love it. I think it has a huge place in peoples minds and obviously in their stomachs.
Justin Gold, founder of Justins Nut Butters, also noted traditional consumers are one of the four demographics that are purchasing nut butters. From the famous PB&J to ants-on-a-log, peanut butter is a staple in all Americans diet, he said. The other four demographics he mentioned are health-oriented consumers who purchase nut butters for their protein and good fats, taste connoisseurs who enjoy Justins proprietary grinding process, and those who are looking for convenience with Justins on-the-go squeeze packs.
The inception of the squeeze pack is cited to be the first packaging innovation in the nut butter category since peanut butter was invented, Gold said. Through this innovation, Justins has changed the way consumers interact with nut butters, but it hasnt been easy. He notes the squeeze packs are the number one reason why consumers purchase Justins.
Raffaela Marie Fenn, president and managing director, National Peanut Board, calls these squeeze packs, one of the coolest things out there.
All four of the demographics Gold mentioned, and perhaps others, are helping create this growing market. According to SPINS, packaged nut butters totaled $30 million in natural supermarkets from June 2007 to June 2008, up 13 percent from the previous year. In conventional supermarkets, packaged nut butters were up 4 percent at $120 million.
A lot of those sales, at least in the natural channel, are organic. SPINS reported 57 percent of nut butters are 95- to 100-percent organic in natural supermarkets, while only 13 percent in conventional carry the organic label. A trend were seeing is the natural and organic is more available in response to increased consumer interest, Fenn said. However, the nonorganic sector is also growing, according to SPINS.
One reason behind this growth may be due to FDA approving a qualified health claim regarding nuts in 2003. The claim states, Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.
As one might expect from the fact that FDA allowed a health claim, numerous studies have shown the heart-health benefits of nuts. A 2002 study, with 21,454 participants enrolled in U.S. Physicians Health Study, found men who consumed nuts two or more times per week had a 47-percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death and a 30-percent lower risk of total coronary heart disease death compared to those who rarely or never consumed nuts.1 And, in an Archives of Internal Medicine commentary, authors highlighted frequent nut consumption reduced the risk of heart attacks by 50 percent.2 They found a possible explanation for the protective effect may be that nuts are high in L-arginine, a basic amino acid that is a precursor to nitric oxide (NO), which is known to inhibit atherogenesis (plaque formation) that can lead to heart attacks.
Nut benefits go beyond heart health. Studies have shown nuts can help reduce the risk of colon cancer,3 may help regulate body weight and protect against type 2 diabetes,4 and may reduce the risk of gallstones.5
Cole Meeker, sales and marketing coordinator, Artisana, added, Nuts are high in essential fats and protein that vegetarians and vegans require in order to maintain good health. There are many nutritional components of the various more common nut butters that one would expect. They are an excellent vitamin E source, good source of trace minerals and a great source of plant-based proteins for some nuts.
And, Sue Hearn, PR director, Clif Bar & Co., noted nuts are a good source of the newly discovered plant sterols. Plant sterols are beneficial compounds found in foods that have potential protective health benefits, she said.
Selling Nut Butters
Many in the nut butter industry feel nut butters sell themselves with their fond place in consumers hearts, shelf life and health benefits. Still, others know shoppers need to be reminded of the benefits of nut butters. Consumers are looking for great taste, versatility, good nutrition, more energy and good value, Fenn said. If retailers focus on any one of those things or all of them, its always going to be a winner.
She added one of the ways retailers can best market nut butters is by putting jars in all types of aisles. Having peanut butter in the produce section is going to help mothers make easy decisions about which vegetables to introduce to their kids. Have peanut butter in the dairy aisles as a dollop to go into smoothies to immediately increase the nutrients and the satiety offered in that beverage.
Meeker recommend providing samples of nut butter jars on apples, but never on crackers. On every demo, nut butters are paired with crackers. This is like pairing cardboard with Styrofoam! Demos are a success only if it leaves a pleasant taste in ones mouth, he said.
Lee Zalben, founder and president, Peanut Butter & Co. suggested taking advantage of back-to-school spikes in nut butter sales by adding end caps in August and September. He noted, Peanut Butter & Co. offers a three-season shipper display, complete with recipe cards and coupons, with seasonal header cards for back-to-school, holiday baking and healthy eating.
While peanut butters may still be a staple in many households, consumers are increasingly interested in trying new forms of nut butters in their diets. Be it for the heart health benefits, the inclusion of more healthy fats, antioxidant properties or for that taste they remember from childhood, shoppers should be reminded that they can enjoy a variety of nut butters and their local natural products store is a great supplier.
Editors Note: References listed on the next page.
1. Albert, C.M., et al. Nut consumption and decreased risk of sudden cardiac death in the Physicians Health Study. Arch. Intern. Med. 2002. 162:1382.
2. Cooke JP, et al. Anti-atherogenic effect of nuts: is the answer NO? Arch Intern Med. 1993 Apr 12;153(7):896, 899, 902.
3. Jain, M.G., et al. Plant foods, antioxidants and prostate cancer risk: findings from case-control studies in Canada. 1999 Nutr and Cancer. 34(2):173-84.
4. García-Lorda, P. I. M. Rangil, J. Salas-Salvadó. Nut consumption, body weight and insulin resistance. 2003 Eur J Clin Nutr. 57(suppl 1):S8-S11.
5. Tsai, C-J. et al. Frequent nut consumption and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women.: 2004. Am J Clin Nutr. 80:76-81.