Nairn’s looks to nutritional claims and on-the-go snacking to provide growth

Reduced sugar, high protein and increased fibre are all key messages for the UK's number-one gluten-free brand, according to managing director Martyn Gray.

15 February 2019

The past few months have seen a steady stream of new product releases from oatcake specialists Nairn’s, all driven by consumer trends. At the end of last year, the Edinburgh-based company unveiled two new ranges designed to tap into on-the-go snacking: Pop Oats, which claim to be the UK’s first gluten-free popped snack, and Oat Bar, boasting 40% less sugar than the average cereal bar.

It followed those launches up in January by adding three new flavours to existing lines, before announcing its lowest sugar biscuit ever a couple of weeks ago. Made with coconut and chia, it also neatly incorporates two popular health foods.

“For us at the moment, messages centred around reduced sugar, high fibre and protein continue to be important,” Martyn Gray, managing director at Nairn’s, tells Food Spark. “There are definitely more and more products labelling themselves as vegan or gluten-free too.”

The NPD push at Nairn’s may be down to the success of its gluten-free initiative. Since investing over £6.5m in a state-of-the-art gluten-free-bakery in 2017, its profits have increased significantly, with the company revealing sales had risen 10% to £30m last year.

Gluten-free and other growth areas

According to the December 2018 edition of Mintel’s Free From Report, Nairn’s is now the number-one gluten-free brand in the UK, encompassing oatcakes, crackers, flatbreads, muesli and more.

While the company’s main range still accounts for well over half of total sales, gluten-free is where most of the growth is taking place, according to Gray. 

“Our gluten-free Biscuit Breaks continue to go from strength to strength and Nielsen data shows it is the UK’s most popular branded GF biscuit range. The addition of two new ‘Chunky’ variants has also been welcomed,” he says.

“Our GF flatbread range has taken Nairn’s into the lunchtime occasion as it has a significantly larger surface area than our other products, making it a genuine bread alternative. It’s growing the category and has not cannibalised any of our other products. The Rosemary & Sea Salt variant also scooped a hat trick of highly credible awards last year – a Gold Free From Food Award plus a Highly Commended in both The Grocer New Product Awards and the Great British Food Awards.”

Nairn’s is also investing in the popularity of ancient grains, building on the success of its Super Seeded Oatcakes with a version made from quinoa, rye and amaranth for a protein-packed treat.

“We have seen a lot more ancient grain products at the various expos and trade shows we have visited both here in the UK and internationally,” says Gray. “We felt that an ancient grain oatcake would appeal to a similar consumer. We tried a number of different ancient grains at test kitchen stage both in their grain form and as flours. The combination we settled on was ultimately down to what we believed had the best taste and texture, and also researched well with consumers.”

What’s your flavour?

Not all NPD at Nairn’s is based around nutrition. The brand’s recent releases include adding a caramelised onion flatbread and a gluten-free cheese cracker to the portfolio – fairly cautious additions, but ones that were carefully considered.

In the case of caramelised onion, research showed that the concept was a popular flavour in everything from relish to crisps, says Gray, adding: “With the new cheese crackers, Nairn’s have always done cheese products well (our cheese oatcakes are a strong performer), so we tested our new gluten-free cheese cracker in an independently run organoleptic taste panel run by the Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation at Queen Margaret University and it outperformed the market leader.”

Nairn's mines inspiration for its NPD from a variety of places, including shows and consumer events, Instagram feeds, as well as the nutritionists, health experts and food writers who work with the company.

Gray says the team are always keeping an eye on trends, both in their own sector and across food in general. That includes changes to labelling and legislation, such as the recent debates around allergens.

“We haven’t specifically considered an allergen-free label,” he adds, “but will monitor the industry and media reaction to this option as it unfolds.”

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