Remember when snacking meant grabbing a candy bar and soda to quell midafternoon cravings? Not anymore!
While candy bars and carbonated beverages haven’t disappeared from consumers’ list of culinary indulgences, those items are being upstaged by snackworthy noshes made with better-for-you ingredients.
It’s all part of the overall trend toward healthier dining, both here and abroad. IRI’s 2017 New and Emerging Snacking Trends found that while indulgent snacks are outpacing healthier snacks with a growth rate of 3.4% within the core snack category, healthier snacks are growing too, by 0.9%.
According to Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends for 2018, four in 10 U.S. and U.K. consumers increased their consumption of healthy foods, while seven in 10 want to know and understand the ingredient list of the foods they consume. In addition, one in five U.S. consumers are most influenced by “real” ingredients, the report notes.
Translating the Trend
Just what does “better-for-you” and “healthy” mean when it comes to the snacks and sweets category? High protein content, clean labels and plant-based ingredients are top of mind, industry experts say.
“In general, the love affair with protein keeps growing, with 60% of consumers actively looking for higher protein foods. This has resulted in a proliferation of protein-infused snacks,” says Randy Gilbride, brand director for Thanasi Foods, makers of the Duke’s line of meat snacks. “Additionally, six in 10 shoppers look for ingredients they can recognize, which has led to more snacking options with clean/simple ingredient labels.”
Joel Warady, general manager and chief sales and marketing officer of Enjoy Life Foods, echoes Gilbride’s assessment. “There’s been an increase in the number of people looking for clean, all-natural and plant-based options and foods that fit specific diets due to medical conditions, intolerances and food allergies,” he says. “Nearly 100 million people shop for foods free from allergens and gluten, and that number will continue to rise as allergic reactions to peanut, seafood, wheat, dairy and more continue to affect them.”
Warady says Blue Cross Blue Shield recently released findings that show the number of kids treated in emergency rooms for anaphylaxis spiked 150% from 2010 to 2016. “As a result, we’re seeing a rise in snacks and sweets innovation in the larger free-from food industry that are crafted with ingredients that are just as delicious as those found in traditional offerings, but are free from allergens, gluten and GMOs,” he says. “The development in the sweets and snacks category is helping to fuel the expansion of the $6.5 billion free-from industry, which is projected to reach $20 billion by 2020.”
Lisa Walsh—CEO of Truco Enterprises, which makes On The Border chips and dips—agrees that the industry is moving toward greater transparency and simpler ingredients. To that end, Truco’s focus when developing new snacks “has been on creating consumer-preferred products, starting with our uniquely crafted unflavored tortilla chips, made with only three simple ingredients of corn, oil and salt.” Walsh says an influx of new flavor profiles influenced by changing culinary influences and consumers’ broadening taste preferences is another trend to watch.
IRI’s 2017 New and Emerging Snacking Trends report similarly calls Latin American- and Asian-inspired products as “trending forms and flavors” in the snack category.
“We see trends influenced by global cuisine and a preference for not only spicy foods, but [also] ones that can deliver a flavorful experience along with the heat,” Walsh says.
An Ethical Issue
Across the board, shoppers are demanding more from companies that make snacks and sweets—but it’s the younger generations that are in the driver’s seat where today’s snacks and sweets trends are concerned. According to Ethics On the Go, a new report from Culinary Visions Panel's Mindful Dining Initiative, millennials in particular hold their snacks to a higher standard compared to other consumer groups.
Sixty-four percent of consumers under age 35 (compared to 57% overall) said there are not enough ethically produced snacks available, and 67% of consumers under age 35 (compared to 55% overall) said they are willing to pay extra to eat more ethically while on-the-go, the report shows.
“Whether it’s rewarding a company’s fair-trade labor practices or their zero-waste policies, we found that millennials are the most serious about ethically sourced grab-and-go foods,” says Sharon Olson, executive director of Culinary Visions Panel.
Like their millennial counterparts, members of Gen Z—now a larger group than millennials—also prefer food and beverages with transparent labeling and an absence of artificial ingredients, according to industry experts, who note the demographic is also skeptical of big brands and too many label claims.
“The desire for clean, less-processed and organic products is especially relevant to millennial consumers, which may be driven by the fact that we have more information than ever before about the food we consume and its impact on our bodies and the planet,” Gilbride says.
It’s not only about what younger consumers are snacking on—it’s about how they’re consuming those snacks as well.
“We do see some generational differences in how consumers like to snack and what attributes they value most,” Walsh says. “For millennials, snacks are replacing traditional meals, with smaller snacking occasions up to four times a day. That has a big impact on how we think about portability, product forms and functionality of ingredients to address their busy lifestyles. Millennials have also grown up in a technology-driven, global community, so their ability to seek and learn about the food they consume is greater than any generation before them. Brands that can communicate where and how [their products] are made in a simple and impactful manner will resonate well with this group.”
Merchandising the Category
Understanding trends is an important first step in approaching the snacks and sweets category; selecting which items to carry, and then marketing and merchandising them in ways that will boost sales, is another.
Warady believes that significantly increasing the inventory of free-from, gluten-free, non-GMO and plant-based snacks and sweets is key—especially considering the rise of the clean eating and allergy-friendly food trends. The need for those kinds of products, he says, will one day match the need for regular, traditional store products.
“Retailers can best merchandise these lines by offering an extensive selection of products to appeal to all consumers, and by incorporating these lines into the standard offerings,” says Warady. “Eventually, these product lines will expand beyond specialty sections to become shelf staples.” Some retailers, such as Kroger, he says, “have already begun to bring natural cookies into the regular cookie aisle.”
Today’s retailers hold free-from shoppers in high importance: The average free-from cart is $102 vs. $46 for a “regular” shopper, Warady says. Because of this, Enjoy Life works with retailers on initiatives including social media campaigns, in-store and e-commerce promotions “to drive trial and purchases of our sweets and snacks.”
Gilbride, too, stresses the importance of broadening inventory. “From a merchandising perspective, we believe a retailer’s assortment should reflect the way the consumer approaches the category. In meat snacks, roughly a third of consumers are exclusive to meat sticks/snack sausages, roughly a third are exclusive to jerky, and roughly a third will purchase either or both. So, best-in-class meat snacks sets have a balanced presence of both segments and make it easy for the consumer to quickly differentiate and find what they are looking for,” he says. “More progressive retailers are looking to expand beyond the traditional meat snack rack and also merchandise in locations that address different occasions. For example, single-serve options can be merchandised in the protein/nutritional bar set to speak to the consumer who is looking for protein, without all of the sugar so often found in the bar category.”
Reaching out to customers with your snack message in every step of today’s complex path to purchase, which begins before they even enter your store, is what Walsh recommends. “Leveraging digital programming, social media and online targeted marketing are key to driving brand awareness, and can drive foot traffic to a particular retailer,” she says. “Once in-store, retailers can capitalize on the impulsive nature of the snacking category through compelling displays, co-merchandising with products with high affinities to drive bigger baskets, and create excitement through sampling events, especially for innovation.”
And don’t ignore omnichannel options, she says. “Snacks are seeing double-digit growth online, an area that is only expected to increase in the coming years,” Walsh reports. “Incorporating snack offerings into the digital shopping experience, at curbside pickup or in-home delivery, will be important for retailers to capture the omnichannel snacking consumer.”
Ultimately, no matter how healthy the ingredients, how clean the label is or how transparent the sourcing, one feature ranks above all others for consumers hankering for snacks and sweets. “One thing that almost all consumers agree upon is taste is paramount,” the IRI snacking report concludes.