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The Spread of Nut Butters

Laura Fraser | February 20, 2020


From the farmers’ market to the supermarket

Peanut butter has long been a favorite American food. If you were a typical U.S. kid, you ate 1,500 PB&J sandwiches before graduating from high school. That’s a lot of peanut butter! In fact, Americans consume between 700-800 million pounds of peanut butter a year, according to Jen Nolander, director of marketing for the SKIPPY® brand, or about three pounds per person – enough to coat the bottom of the Grand Canyon, according to the Texas Peanut Producers Board.

Spreadable peanut paste dates back to the Aztecs, but the peanut butter we know today was patented in 1895 by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg as a nutritious protein source for patients without teeth. In 1922, chemist Joseph Rosefield figured out how to keep the oil from separating from the peanuts (by adding vegetable shortening), inventing smooth peanut butter. In 1932, he began producing his own product under the name “Skippy.

Beyond the Peanut

Today, nut butters are the go-to food for people who want quick, nutritious protein, whether they’re parents stuffing lunchboxes, vegetarians supplementing their diet or athletes who need a quick energy fix. But while peanut butter is still the king of nut butters (even though technically the peanut is a legume, not a nut), the past few years have seen a phenomenal rise in other types of nut butters — mainly almond, but also cashew, hazelnut, pistachio and whichever other nuts people can grind into a spreadable snack. IRI, a retail data firm, reports that the U.S. market for nut butters totaled $2.3 billion in 2018. And while peanut butter is the largest segment of that market at 78 percent, almond butter has grown 30 percent over the last five years, now representing 7.4 percent of the nut butter market. Where a mainstream grocery used to have few, if any, almond butter products, now the average retailer has 12 varieties.

Peanut Butter
of the nut butter category in 2018
Almond Butter
of the nut butter category in 2018
U.S. market for nut butters in 2018

The spread of almond butter and other nut butters has been partly fueled by concerns about peanut allergies — many schools have banned peanut butter altogether — as well as interest in new vegetarian sources of protein and healthy fats. Interest in ketogenic and paleo diets have also driven up sales.

The interest in natural products has also helped drive the market for new nut butters. In natural or health food stores, almond butter sales now equal those of peanut butter. “People want a good, clean protein source,” says Penny Andino, vice president of marketing, Justin’s, a company that helped drive the market in nut butters. This extends to natural peanut butter spreads: While sales of conventional peanut butter in a jar are flat, natural peanut butter spreads have grown over the past five years, says Nolander. Natural peanut butter spreads, she says, don’t contain hydrogenated oil as a stabilizer, which is part of the definition of “peanut butter.”