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Greater transparency must for more investment in nuts and dried fruits industry

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While have long been a part of the Indian culture, they have been purchased mostly by the affluent and consumed mainly during the festive season. However, this is changing as more Indians are becoming health conscious. Acceptance of nuts and dried fruit as true health foods is also encouraging food processing companies to include them in their premium ranges. Apart from a plethora of health and energy benefits offered, dried fruit and edible nuts also offer the convenience of a quick, easy snack. The ease of storage, long shelf-life, portability, minimal seasonality issues and natural resistance to spoilage makes them an ideal snacking alternative.

Greater transparency for higher investments for India's nuts & dried fruits industry
Besides being packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, most nuts also contain healthy substances like unsaturated fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, antioxidants, plant sterols and L-arginine

However, even though the popularity of nuts as healthfood is witnessing a surge, the per capita consumption of nuts in India is a meager 100gm per annum – including direct consumption as well as an ingredient in desserts, namkeen etc. This is appallingly low in comparison to other countries like the USA where the per capita consumption is 1.8 kg per year! India is home to 17.5% of the world’s population and is the second-largest producer of cashew nuts, and peanuts in the world. However at $2.5 billion in sales, India consumes only 3 per cent of the global demand for nuts and dried fruits. With rising disposable incomes and a growing customer awareness, this scenario has been steadily changing over the past few years.

There is a marked shift in the buying pattern of Indian consumers, wherein nuts and dried fruits are finally traversing from a luxury into a necessity and from a commodity into a lifestyle. Though trading in nuts and dried fruits has a long tradition in India, this sector is very competitive and highly unorganised. It permits limited scope for investments on innovation, packaging, standardisation, branding, and marketing or positioning. While there is a plethora of other challenges that plague this particular category, consumer awareness is this segment’s Achilles’ heel.

Firstly, the consumer or buyer has limited knowledge of the types of product or grades of quality that are available and how much each should cost. For example, the cashew industry clearly indicates nut sizes (number of kernels per pound) and colour by classifying under WW180, WW240, WW320, etc. besides mentioning the origin as Mangalore, Goa, Kollam, etc. to further differentiate quality and grade. Walnuts are classifi ed by colour as extra light, light, light-amber, amber and by size as halves, quarters, broken etc. Almonds come in varieties such as as non-pareil, carmel, sanora, etc. besides having origins such as California, Australia, etc, while Pistachios are either Californian or Iranian. All these varieties and grades have a different price range that become largely irrelevant at the retail level. This lack of awareness has resulted in an overall trust deficit, with customers often paying higher rates for low value. As the average consumer has started becoming more attentive and trusted brands are encouraging greater transparency through proper labelling, this scenario is changing.

The next conundrum is one where theoretical knowledge is widespread but not so the practical application. Almost everyone knows that nuts and dried fruits are beneficial for health but not many are aware of the true magnitude packed by these bite-sized nutritional powerhouses. Every nut and dried fruit comes with its own benefits. A recent study found that the more nuts people consumed, the lower their death rates were from all causes — especially heart disease and stroke. Besides being packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, most nuts also contain healthy substances like unsaturated fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, antioxidants, plant sterols and L-arginine. Most people in Indian integrate these power foods into their daily diet only after being struck by an ailment or when the doctor prescribes it.

Also, most end users are not aware of the exotic variety and quality that is now available in the Indian market. Over the past few years we have expanded our product portfolio to include superior quality imported nuts and dry fruits from various parts of the world. If a region is recognized for its produce then we tap it for the Indian consumer at excellent wholesale rates. From dried apricots, blueberries, cranberries, prunes, dates, figs, kiwi, and pineapple to watermelon seeds, chia seeds, etc., everything is easily available at affordable prices pan India.

The nuts and dry fruits industry in India has shown a healthy growth of more than 10 per cent year on year, in terms of volume. This is much ahead of the CAGR growth rate of 5.3 per cent for the dry fruit market and 6.5 per cent for the nuts market in the Asia-Pacific. A combination of factors such as increasing disposable income, growing awareness of health needs, better availability, right packaging, consistent quality, adequate product communication and newer products will continue to fuel this demand. We have only witnessed the tip of the iceberg and the next few years are set to be quite exciting for this market.