Sales of nuts are ahead of most other snacks and the time is right to encourage more consumers to come out of their shell Nuts is a huge area of opportunity for retailers," says KP Nuts marketing director Mandy Ferguson. "As the largest branded player, we've been making strenuous efforts to increase consumer awareness and broaden year round consumption." The company has also published the first dedicated report on the nut market, estimated to be worth £212m last year, with an increase of 4.5%, a performance that outstrips most other snacking categories. Own label has the biggest share (63.6%), but the main growth is coming from the brands which are led by KP Nuts (over 24% share), while the rest share 12% between them. On average, households purchase 2.2kg of nuts annually, worth £8.38, a value increase fuelled by mixes and cashews and pistachios. This has to be balanced against frequency of purchase which declined last year in all sectors except cashews, pistachios and other tree nuts. Average frequency was 5.9 occasions per household. "The challenge is to encourage consumers to consider nuts in the wider snacking context to boost frequency and market growth," says Ferguson. Another challenge is consumers age profile: nearly 67% of nuts are consumed by the over 35s. While this presents opportunities for highly targeted marketing, it also means there's a need to encourage younger people to eat more nuts. There are also huge opportunities to increase nut snacking outside the home, because most nuts are eaten in the home (81%). This ties in with the seasonality of sales ­ 40% of which are made over the Christmas period. In the grocery market, the 12-week festive period accounts for almost 42% ­ or £50.5m ­ of total annual sales. Prices peak, too, because more premium and larger packs are introduced. In the independent and convenience market, sales have risen sharply over Christmas during the last three years. "Retailers should make the most of this by trading up to larger 300g and 500g bags to boost sales, as well as stocking a broader range and introducing greater varieties of pack sizes and flavours," says Ferguson. Peanuts still have the lion's share ­ 45%, worth £65m ­ though performance is static because of perceptions that they are full of salt, are fattening and generally not good for you. "We're investing heavily to dispel these misconceptions, because peanuts are the frontrunner in the snacking market," says Ferguson. "Initiatives include a Nuts for Life campaign promoting the way in which peanuts can support a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle. This has been supported by radio coverage." Dry roasted, salt & vinegar, spiced chilli and curry flavour are the best sellers, says Ferguson. The slowdown is not mirrored in impulse, where flavoured and salted variants are the best performers. Last year KP launched organic peanuts and cashews in response to consumer demand for a quality organic nut. Pistachios, cashews and other tree nuts are the best performing sector, with sales up nearly 9% year on year to £45m. Cashews are driving volume, followed by pistachios. Sales are particularly strong over Christmas where they are purchased as a premium treat. Mixes is another big growth area, with sales up over 7% year on year to £33m, over half being made in the Christmas period. It's an area of strong innovation, where all manufacturers contribute to growth, most of it channelled through the multiples. Impulse sales have grown dramatically - up 42.5% year on year. The main growth is coming from fruit and nut mixes which again perform extremely well in the Christmas run-up. Surprisingly, pure nut assortments, which sell well over the year, don't gain sales in the festive season. Mixes containing nuts and other snack products have grown nearly 10%, but from a small base. Chocolate and nut mixes remain niche, but again do well around Christmas. To boost the market, KP is running its biggest ever on-pack promotion - Get a taste for life ­ which offers £75,000 worth of adventure holidays. {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}