ALMONDS are ticking several boxes in what consumers are chasing when it comes to snacking foods.
Convenience, safe, versatility and good nutritional values are all on the priority list for those with the munchies in between meals, according to RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness senior analyst, horticulture and wine, Hayden Higgins.
Mr Higgins was a keynote speaker at the Australian Almond Conference in Melbourne earlier this month addressing the topic of the "Global Economy, Almonds and Other Horticultural Industries".
Mr Higgins said almonds have a natural fit with the snacking consumer's preferences, either as a direct snack or an ingredient in other snack products or dairy alternatives.
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He said the product was also high in protein, considered in the emerging group of “super-foods” and a premium product.
But there's another attractive phrase for consumers: sustainability.
"Sustainability is a term often used, considered almost a buzzword in many cases," Mr Higgins said.
"Sustainability is broadly defined and means different things to different people – it is not black and white and there is plenty of grey in there.
"Often when people are asked they include terms like longevity, the environment, animal welfare, to minimise pollution or waste.
"Social media and numerous documentaries into food supply chains also contribute to raising perceptions or the profile of the term 'sustainability'.
"The rise in awareness and focus on sustainability is unlikely to dissipate – the almond sector is focussed on sustainability including areas such as efficient use of water and also alternate uses for the outer shell and hull."
It seems Aussies have certainly developed a taste for their home-grown almonds.
Australian consumption of Australian-produced almonds has been growing at around five per cent per annum over the past 10 years, according to Mr Higgins.
"It is a bit hard to estimate domestic consumption moving forward however if a similar growth rate is assumed, from the estimated production growth forecast, we naturally conclude that exports should take up the majority of this," he said.
"Should Australian domestic consumption grow faster than it has historically, this could of course change the dynamics, but not materially.
"Of course imports could substitute domestic demand depending upon where the industry sees the best returning markets for product placement (exports or domestic) - the highest paying market shall likely rule the day.
"This all obviously depends upon what the production profile looks like and how this plays out in terms of Australian almonds going into other product uses such as snack bars, dairy alternatives etcetera."
THE Rabobank figures show that in order to meet that demand, the Australian planted area has been increasing over recent years.
There are now about 40,000 hectares under almond trees with increased planting expected to continue over the next two to three years.
"Production has sat at around 80,000 tonnes (kernel weight) for the past two years, however with the plantings that have occurred over recent years yet to come into production and future plantings expected, estimates are for production to increase to around 150,000t (kernel weight) within the next 10 years," Mr Higgins said.
"This will of course be dependent upon total plantings, timing of these, availability of water and various seasonal weather patterns that may influence."
From a global perspective, Mr Higgins said overall, world production growth has also been occurring with the USA, the world's dominant producer at about 80pc of global production, also increasing planted area and subsequently production and exports.
Mr Higgins' figures show that over the past 10 years, global consumption/demand has grown by around 6pc per annum as an average, with production below this at around 5pc, so demand has kept ahead of production growth.