Cracking the Craveability Code for In-Shell Peanuts

Salted, roasted…sour? In-shell peanuts may soon be available in new flavor options. Protein-packed peanuts are growing in sales as health-conscious consumers reach for more wholesome snacks. While flavoring peanut kernels adds to their craveability, Hampton Farms hopes adding flavor to in-shells will have the same effect. A dose of flavor may be the key to getting younger consumers to consider in-shell peanuts beyond the ballpark.

When it comes to finding flavors that millennials will crave, Ed Engoron, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Perspectives Consulting Group in Los Angeles, CA, says “that involves taking a look at where flavors are going from the consumers’ stand point.” Engoron is an expert in flavor research with a long list of prominent clients across the food industry.

He earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California, and has degrees in architecture and business administration. He even trained at the famous Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, providing him with the culinary acumen and psychographic prowess to research and develop flavors that people love. As he says it, “our practice is where food and people come together.” 

That’s why Hampton Farms, one of the largest sellers of in-shell peanuts, recently tapped Dr. Engoron to develop flavor concepts for in-shells. It’s a product he’s worked with before, and one where he sees great potential. “I think there's a tremendous opportunity for in-shells,” said Engoron. “Any flavor profile that works on a chip will work on an in-shell product.”  

Bolder is Better

Unlike chips, flavoring in-shells requires a different technique and can be a bit of a challenge. The flavor has to penetrate the hull, and be assertive enough to withstand flavor-fade, the loss of flavor through cooking and aging. Engoron created a bourbon in-shell for sampling in which he ended up using a more potent bourbon to get the flavor to come through. “I will tell you, in the last round, it blew the doors off of one of our ovens,” said Engoron. 

Identifying flavors that appeal to consumer tastes is easy for Engoron. His company looks at the cultural, and regional food influences that are popular with consumers. For younger consumers, he says that boldness, spiciness, and “the heat level” are what appeal to them. As such, he developed some globally-inspired flavor concepts including Caribbean Jerk and Coconut Curry that incorporated a degree of spice and heat. But bold flavor doesn’t just mean spicy.

“Bacon is another preferred flavor,” said Engoron. “Then on the other side of that, especially with younger millennials, is sour. You can't make it sour enough. I mean if your eye isn't twitching then it's really not sour enough for these folks.” Engoron sees in-shell peanuts as a blank canvas when it comes to flavor application. Could sour really be an option? 

The Flavor-Forward Future of In-Shells

Jamie McGarity, brand marketing assistant for Hampton Farms, is a millennial insider working on the in-shell flavor project. Of all the flavor concepts she sampled from Dr. Engoron’s batch, sour was actually on top of her list. “The vinegar and mustard was a popular one,” said McGarity. “You could literally taste vinegar, and you could really taste the mustard.”

She also sampled a dill pickle flavor that the Hampton Farms team created internally. “Let me tell you it was my favorite,” said McGarity. She was initially skeptical about it, but after sampling she said that it was authentically dill pickle flavored, and it was actually good. As a millennial consumer, she says that for a company to have authenticity, innovation, and the gumption to create a new product that is completely off the wall is the ultimate winning combination.

“I think that’s what gets millennials,” said McGarity. “They want to see excitement; they want to see innovation. Why not push the envelope and do something unexpected?” When it comes to research on flavors, her analysis echoes that of Dr. Engoron’s. She said that there is a general consumer interest for edgier, bolder flavors that have depth and complexity, and offer a multi-sensory experience.

So, are unusual flavor combinations the perfect recipe for maximizing the craveability of in-shells? McGarity says there is a little more to it than that. Hampton Farms introduced Cajun and Hickory Smoked in-shells to their product line a few years ago with some success. In addition to pursuing flavor options to increase consumption, they are also exploring new marketing initiatives.

They are currently promoting occasions that lend themselves to snacking on in-shells. Think of backyard barbeques, camping, fishing, or just being outdoors with friends and family. Their goal is to show younger consumers how they can snack on in-shells as a regular part of their daily lives, not just at sporting events. Cracking open peanuts and tossing the shell is a nostalgic way to snack. Having them in a salt and vinegar flavor just makes it better.

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