Savvy snacking

Consumers have embraced healthy snacking and grocers have responded by making product available throughout the entire store. 

While the public was concerning itself with the future of the Twinkie, the healthy snack category has been busy overtaking the grocery store.

Tangerine_ImageNut blends, freeze dried fruit and roasted vegetables have made a permanent home for themselves in retailers’ produce, deli, coffee bar, bakery departments and the checkout area—in addition to the traditional snack aisle.

Industry observers say snacking is no longer synonymous with empty calories, but rather a ubiquitous activity praised for its influence on portion control and a healthy lifestyle. They estimate that the average person snacks about 1,000 times a year and that 25% of all calories eaten are done through snacking.

Consumers have discovered the advantages of snacking differently—not more—with foods that have the same benefits and value of a complete meal. The desire for less processed, real foods and global flavors is shifting what consumers are looking for in snacking or mini-meal occasions. Snacks containing naturally occurring protein and fiber traditionally found on meal occasions are appealing to consumers looking to replace, bridge and upgrade their current snack repertoire, observers say.

“Choosing convenient food on-the-go for you and your children, that are nutritious and nurturing, can be a challenge given the overwhelming and craftily deceiving marketing we are presented with as consumers,” says Demian Potter, vice president of sales for Eden Foods. The Clinton, Mich.-based company sources premium nuts, seeds and dried fruits for its snacks, which are offered in pocketsize and single-serve packaging, as well as 4-ounce resealable pouches.

The Hartman Group, a market research firm, reported that the number of all snacking occasions increased to 52% in 2012 from 49% in 2010. Its data also shows that consumers are eating an average of 2.35 snacks per day. And snacking is not just about mindless munching. Observers add that consumers increasingly believe that eating smaller meals more frequently is healthier and that snacking bridges gaps between meals due to long work and commute times.

One of the more popular and fastest growing natural snacks is popcorn. SPINS, an information provider for the natural and specialty products industry, reports that popcorn is the fastest growing segment in the natural salted snack category, up 46.5% in total dollar sales at food, drug, mass outlets for the 24 weeks ended August 3.

Angie’s, a ready-to-eat popcorn maker, has found success in the marketplace, says Angie Bastian, president and founder of the North Mankato, Minn.-based company. Angie’s Naturally Simple popcorns and kettle corns are made without high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, flavors or preservatives and have no trans fats. All products are gluten-free and made with non-GMO corn and ingredients.

Best known for the Boomchickapop. line of low-calorie popcorns, Angie’s launched two more light varieties at Expo East in September. The White Cheddar has 60 calories a cup and the Caramel Cheddar has 96 calories per cup. “We feel like we’re driving that ready-to-eat popcorn shift and the velocity that’s there,” says Bastian. “As we look at trends, any popcorn that is being offered in some sort of healthier, simplistic version is rocking it in the grocery store.”

Healthy microwave popcorn is catching the attention of consumers as well. Quinn Popcorn is “Microwave popcorn reinvented,” founders Kristy and Coulter Lewis say. Using its Pure Pop Bag made from compostable paper, Quinn brought three flavors to the natural snack market: Parmesan & Rosemary, Maple & Sea Salt, and Lemon & Sea Salt.

“We set out to reinvent the staple of snacking,” says Kristy Lewis. “Everything we use is non-GMO.” The Woburn, Mass.-based company replaced the hydrogenated oils and artificial flavorings found in many microwave popcorns with expeller-pressed oils and simple ingredients.

Making a bag of Quinn Popcorn is a hands-on experience for the consumer. After microwaving the Pure Pop Bag, the consumer first adds the enclosed pouch of oil, then shakes in the packet of seasonings until it all comes together. Since launching, Quinn has added four more flavors: Butter & Sea Salt, Hickory Smoked Cheddar, Olive Oil & Herbs, and Just Sea Salt.

“Once we started selling and getting feedback, we had the realization that people wanted to have a greater involvement in the food they consume,” says Coulter Lewis. “It strengthens the perception that it is more natural because they can see each raw ingredient and tweak the recipe to their liking. The hands-on process has only added value for us and our consumers.”

Fruitful snack sales
Many consider fruit to be the original snack, but thanks to technology, it has now taken on a different form while still providing genuine flavor and nutrition. Consumers have quickly embraced freeze-dried fruit for its unique approach to snacking and health, and manufacturers have followed suit with innovative flavors and varieties, including several vegetable-based offerings, say observers.

Jessi Brennan, director of advertising/marketing for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Crunchies Food Co., says much of Crunchies success can be attributed to the gluten-free and natural movements. “A lot of gluten-free items contain added sugars, so it’s great to have a gluten-free snack that doesn’t have them but still offers nutritional value,” she says.

Crunchies most popular flavor has always been Strawberries, but Brennan says its Mixed Fruit offering has been catching up. “We offer so many blends and different flavors, so strawberry became a good introduction to freeze dried fruit and a staple for many consumers,” she says. “But now people are branching out and trying new varieties.” Crunchies also offers a variety of freeze-dried vegetables with unique flavors like BBQ Roasted Veggies and Buttered Sweet Corn.

Vegetable products are actually becoming a more popular snacking option as consumers aim to eat healthier. Harvest Snaps, manufactured by Fairfield, Calif.-based Calbee North America, are available in two varieties, Snapea Crisps and Lentil Snaps, with six different flavors: lightly salted, black pepper, Caesar, wasabi ranch, tomato basil and onion thyme.

Harvest Snaps’ Snapea Crisps are made from naturally dried peas, which make up 70% of the product while Lentil Snaps are made from 65% lentils and contain 5 grams of protein and 13% of daily recommended fiber. “Our product is low in sodium, high in fiber and low in cholesterol. That’s no different from what people are looking for in an average meal,” says Steve Kneepkens, vice president of sales and marketing for Harvest Snaps.

Some observers say that the demand for freeze-dried fruits as snacks will continue to increase at a healthier rate than the total healthy snacks category because freeze-drying preserves flavor.

Angela Liu, founder and CEO of Fairfield, N.J.-based Crispy Green says,  “Innovation will be the key to drive growth, as consumers will demand higher-quality and better-tasting products.” Crispy Green offers seven varieties of its Crispy Fruit, including apples, mangoes, bananas, cantaloupe, pineapple, Asian pear and the newest flavor, tangerine.

Mobile merchandising
Whether part of a consumer’s life or the grocery store, it seems there is nowhere that healthy snacks cannot go. This summer, Justin’s, based in Boulder, Colo., introduced its signature nut butters in a smaller, 80 Calorie Squeeze Pack. “Consumer feedback is key, and since our consumers were crying for squeeze packs less than 100 calories, we decided it was time to deliver,” says Justin Gold, founder and CEO. “Creating a six-pack of portable, protein-rich packs offers not only value, but a convenient, portion-controlled snack.” Available in five varieties, the squeeze packs are sold six to a box, making them a fitting choice for the lunchbox, gym bag or desk drawer, says Gold.80-Cal-Squeeze-Pack-Boxes

Officials for Funky Monkey Snacks, maker of freeze dried snacks, say their product line sells well in a number of areas throughout the store including produce, natural, snacks and specialty sets like gluten-free. “Our fun, attractive packaging merchandises well and can be supported with Funky Monkey displays, which are great for additional exposure and sales,” says Matt Herzog, president of the Fishers, Ind.-based company.

Mediterranean Snack Food Co. officials say they have made it easier than ever to merchandise their tapaz2go hummus snacks as every case becomes a six-count display-ready shipper, ideal for the deli, check-out and grab-and-go sections. The Boonton, N.J.-based company has also created a 48-count floor-stand shipper to display all three hummus varieties of tapaz2go with a relatively small footprint.

Some observers say they are seeing more and more retailers replace traditional front-end items such candy, gum and magazines with healthy snacks. Often grab-and-go items best fit this bill and Sahale Snacks, based in Seattle, has added unique flavor to the category with their premium nut blends and line of Grab & Go snacks.

“Our Pomegranate Pistachios won Most Innovative New Product in the Salty Snacks category at the 2013 Sweets & Snacks Expo,” says Erika Cottrell, vice president of marketing for Sahale. “It’s not just a boring granola bar or plain nuts anymore, it’s become all about adding that flavor element. You can still get that extra flavor of an interesting fruit or spice added to elevate your snack.”

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