According to a November 2016 report from ICEX, the value of the nut sector’s exports increased by 43.3% in 2015, and almost 144,479 tonnes of the ingredient were shipped in the same year. In the midst of the numbers, European nations were top dogs, with notable increases in the value of nut exports from the UK (11.2%), Sweden (19.6%) and Portugal (3.3%).

The cause for nuts’ continued success has been linked with their nutritional value. As long as they aren’t laced with salt, nuts have been shown to be a fantastic source of protein, fibre and essential fats. However, they have also been used by food companies to carve out a market for those enjoying alternative eating lifestyles, such as vegetarianism and veganism, and provide vital nutrients that such consumers might otherwise miss.

Shifting patterns: intolerances and restrictive diets

As consumers educate themselves more about their eating habits, numerous alternative lifestyles have begun to rise in popularity. A 2016 report by the Vegan Society claimed that the number of vegans in Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade, with more than half a million people between the ages of 15-34 living a meat and dairy-free existence.

In the midst of shifting patterns, nuts have been used as a basis for products that give consumers a healthy route around intolerances or restrictive diets. If you avoid dairy, for example, almonds are a calcium-rich alternative that also contain skin-protecting vitamin E and heart-preserving flavonoids. Their use in almond milk has boosted the plant-based drink market which, according to a report by Innova Market Insights, is set to be worth a whopping $16.3bn by 2018.

Almonds are not the only nuts capable of serving consumers with alternative eating styles. Cashews contribute high levels of protein, and have therefore been a staple for vegetarians as a stir-fry ingredient or in nut butters. Meanwhile, consumers with a low thyroid function can quaff Brazil nuts, which are a good source of selenium. Often found in soil, this mineral helps produce the active thyroid hormone, as well as supporting immunity and helping wounds to heal.

Nothing but nuts: new product offerings

One company featuring nuts front and centre in its product line is snack-maker Bite UK, which recently released its Pure Bite range of rice, nut and coconut-based snack clusters. Jason Bull, managing director at Bite UK said: “The popularity for nuts sit in its recognition with the health trend. It’s their natural make-up of protein content and good fats which make them popular with nutritionists, sports and muscle food types”.

The success of free-from foods contributed to the creation of Pure Bite. “Having friends and family that were diagnosed as coeliac and being heavily involved in wheat flour products at the time, I saw the need for a good quality and more importantly, a healthy and tasty gluten free product for the mass market”, Bull explains.

He continues: “We are 100% behind vegans and vegetarians. It was very important to me that we could make something that would appeal to those sorts of diets. Our snacks, particularly nut-based snacks, are naturally high in fibre and protein, so it is actually adding to the nutrients of those diets.

“We are looking to take the staples of a vegan diet, such as nuts, and innovate them into something that will knock your socks off.”