Picture this: an athlete clad in a luminous swimming cap and wetsuit slicing through icy waters. Just where does she get all her energy? Your answer is unlikely to be peanut butter, but this is exactly the image the sector’s second biggest brand, Whole Earth, is using to promote the stuff.

Peanut butter is being reinvented. The days of Americanised images featuring thick slices of white bread with lashings of peanut butter and jam are fading. It is now a healthy food, a valuable source of energy and protein for gym-bunnies, athletes and health conscious consumers alike.

In a nutshell, health nuts are going nuts for nut butters.

This rebranding has helped peanut butter overtake marmalade to become Britain’s third biggest spread (after honey and jam), according to figures exclusive to The Grocer. Sales are up 13.3% on volumes up 9% [Kantar Worldpanel]. Marmalade, relegated to fifth thanks to similarly strong growth in chocolate spread, is down 2.4% to £54.8m on volumes down 4.9%.  

One factor driving peanut butter’s growth is the ongoing debate around sugar. Consumers are looking for a healthier alternative to spread on their toast in the morning. And brands such as Meridian and Whole Earth are proudly promoting their products on their lack of the sweet stuff. Its versatility as a cooking ingredient is another selling point.

Perhaps most surprising is how a growing number of brands are promoting peanut butter as a sports aid. Pippa Murray, founder of nut butter brand Pip & Nut (not just peanut; health nuts have cottoned on to the benefits of almond and cashew butters too), describes her butters, which come in squeezable sachets as “natural energy gels”.

That Whole Earth, which sells sachets of peanut butter for cyclists and runners in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, has partnered with the British Triathlon Association is the perfect example of the changes taking place. On their website, the brand takes the backseat behind images of athletes with the headline ‘it’s all about your PB’. Clearly, the brand is serious about sport.

With good reason. As we reveal in our Focus On: Jams, Spreads & Honey – featuring more exclusive data, interviews and insights into the stickiest category on the market – if Whole Earth keeps up the pace, it could overtake Sun-Pat to become the UK’s biggest peanut butter brand soon. Sun-Pat had better put its running shoes on.