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By: Simone Baroke

Peanuts, despite being maligned for their allergy-causing potential, have been performing steadily. Now it seems that the humble ground nut is destined to enjoy a renaissance, owing to a recent endorsement from the US American Heart Association and its extraordinarily high protein content.

High Uptake in Eastern Europe

At first glance, peanuts do not seem to be doing too well. Euromonitor International’s fresh food data show that global fresh peanut volumes declined by 15% in 2012. However, on closer examination, this contraction was almost entirely down to peanuts’ poor performance in India, where volumes plummeted by 26%. The reason for this was India’s poor monsoon season that year. The monsoon is responsible for 70% of India’s annual rainfall, and this equates to 75% of the country’s peanut production. Despite this setback, India remains the world’s biggest market for fresh peanuts, with 5.6 million tonnes shifted in 2012, ahead of China’s 3.7 million tonnes.

On a global level, peanuts accounted for just over one-third of global fresh nut consumption by volume in 2012, and, considering their maturity, they are not actually performing too badly. In Eastern Europe, for instance, peanuts recorded a respectable 5% CAGR over the 2007-2012 review period, driven by strong demand in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Allergy Issue not Throttling Sales

Even in the US, where peanuts accounted for 36% of fresh nut consumption in 2012, a small but positive growth trajectory of a 1% CAGR was observed. A recent development is bound to inject some much-needed dynamism. In March 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) awarded oil-roasted salted peanuts its Heart Check logo. This is also likely to have an impact on fresh peanuts as informed consumers will recognise that unsalted peanuts are bound to be even more heart-healthy than lightly processed ones.

One of peanuts’ biggest drawbacks is probably their allergenicity, but it is worth pointing out that public perception of the extent of this problem is out of sync with reality. An article published recently in the journal Social Science & Medicine made the point that the number of people who perish annually due to peanut-induced anaphylactic shock in the US is equal to those killed by lightning strikes.

So, although the consequences are serious for afflicted individuals, the rate of incidence is far from rampant, and the peanut allergy issue poses no overall threat to peanuts’ popularity. The President of the American Peanut Council stated in an interview in July 2013 that “despite heightened social sensitivity, the industry had not suffered financially”.

High Protein Set to Boost Peanuts’ Status

Heart-health benefits are not the only bonus enjoyed by peanuts in the health and wellness realm. Consumers’ hankering after high protein foods, a nutritional attribute that is fast gaining relevancy in weight management, is probably the most dynamic trend currently besides the all-pervasive drive towards ‘natural’ products. Peanuts can deliver on both fronts.

Peanuts are higher in protein than any other nut or legume (with very few exceptions such as soybeans). Peanuts’ protein content stands at 26% (by weight), compared with 19% for almonds, 15% for walnuts and 23% for lentils. Peanuts are convenient, portable and versatile. They make for a tasty snack at any time of the day, and they can also serve as a key component of a main meal, such as breakfast or lunch, especially in the form of peanut butter.

In the high protein stakes, the fact that peanuts are plant-based counts as an advantage. Many health and environmentally-conscious consumers are trying to cut down on meat and dairy, and for those wanting to up their protein intake, peanuts are a top choice, and a very economically priced one at that.

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