Here’s What Makes America Go Nuts For Almonds

Tracing the nut’s popularity through social media conversations

Whether you decide to go dairy-free or gluten-free — almonds are here for you — either as milk or as flour.

Often mistaken as nuts, almonds are in fact, seeds of a fruit and America’s number one specialty crop export.

California produces 80 percent of world’s almonds and 100 percent of the country’s domestic commercial supply. This is no easy undertaking — a single almond drinks 1.1 gallon of water and the state has about 1.2 million acres of almond orchards. These orchards require 1.7 million or 85 percent of all available commercial bee hives — that’s 80 billion pollinating bees that work on these orchards for a few weeks in February in the “largest managed pollination event in the world.”

What drives this massive supply of almonds? Apart from being a healthy, easy snack, a massive demand for almond milk and flour as alternatives for dairy and gluten products.

As the demand for more specialized, allergen-free products has grown, the lactose intolerant folks have found their substitutes in varying kinds of milk including soy, coconut, rice, cashew and almond, and the those with gluten insensitivity have turned to flours made out of potato, corn, rice and almond. As a result, the global gluten-free market is poised to grow to almost $8 billion by 2020 and the lactose-free market is projected to be worth $14 billion by 2022.

Almond milk for the dairy free

Before we get into specific social conversations about different nutritional trends, it’s essential to acknowledge that the American diet has been getting healthier. Over the past decade, Americans have adopted quite a few diet fads — ranging from veganism, vegetarianism, dairy-free and gluten-free diets.

Whether it’s determined by allergens or self-imposed as a lifestyle choice, diets determine how consumers go grocery shopping. As we set out to investigate some popular nutrition trends, we found that these are shaping healthy lifestyles today, creating new product lines, and driving demand for environmentally sustainable products. We analyzed conversation about the four nutrition trends mentioned above from 2010-2016 in the U.S.

Social media conversations testified that rapidly mounting health concerns regarding food paved the way for a more health-conscious consumer. This is reflected in specific topics of conversation mentioning gluten-free, veganism, dairy-free and vegetarianism.

But understanding the need for alternatives to lactose and gluten stems from identifying specific sentiments that drives the aversion towards dairy or wheat products.

Negative sentiment is highest for dairy products, with more than double the negative sentiment compared to vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. The conversation around dairy skews so negatively because of allergy concerns. But intolerances aside, there are also consumers who talk about going dairy- and gluten-free for weight loss and health benefits. That strand makes up almost 20% of dairy-free conversation and 10% of gluten-free conversation.

Naturally, this has led to a proliferating market catering to these specific diet trends. Among non-dairy products, almond milk is the most popular option, cutting into the soy milk conversation over the past six years. Almond milk has risen from 30% share of voice in 2010 to 50% in the past year.

A Nielsen study showed that almond milk is the country’s favorite milk substitute, clocking 250% in sales growth since 2010 and globally, the almond milk market is set to grow 15% CAGR between 2016 and 2020. That sentiment is reflected in brand preferences too. Blue Diamond Almond Breeze is the most discussed non-dairy brand, followed by Love My Silk which makes almond, soy and coconut milk.

Almond flour for the gluten-free

Among social conversations discussing diet trends, gluten-free has been driving the discussion since 2010, far outpacing all other topics, encompassing  two-thirds of the total conversation.

Just as non-dairy milk options have started crowding the shelves amid growing demand, gluten-free flours have similarly multiplied. Rice, almond, and coconut are the most discussed options, all of them have been talked about fairly evenly over the past 3 years.  Almond flour, however, has more than doubled in share of voice over the past six years.

Here too, analyzing specific sentiments towards gluten-free products tells a more insightful story. People not only prefer gluten-free but also want low-carb, and this is reflected in how people talk about different gluten-free flours. Almond and coconut flours are discussed most positively and are frequently mentioned in relation to low-carb baking, cooking, and recipes.

Among gluten-free brands, Udi’s Gluten-free is mentioned the most, followed by Bob’s Redmill and Betty Crocker.

Almonds and America

Given that almonds are US’ number one crop export, its place in the American diet emphasizes itself. California’s almond farmers set a record this summer with 2.25 billions pounds of nuts in harvest.

The flourishing almond industry has even forced agricultural researchers to explore the idea of the maximizing coproducts going beyond the crop. This could include converting almond hulls to make fibrous materials, which in turn can be added to diapers as a natural absorbent, or as additives for foods, moisturizers and pharmaceuticals.

Social media conversations can point to many emerging trends before they become mainstream. Or in the very least, assert the popularity of a certain trend.  It might be worthwhile for brands to milk this by tuning into consumer conversations on social media. Because the dietary choices consumers make determines how they shop at supermarkets and what they reach for. This is a part of a larger series on consumer packaged goods. Download the larger report on consumer opinions of beverages in the consumer packaged goods industry below.

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