With K–12 students back to in-person school this year—and to their regular roster of extracurricular activities—many parents again find themselves in frequent need of easily portable, conveniently portioned snacks.
And now, on the lookout for healthy choices after a year that trended more toward straight-from-the-bag snacking, they’re turning increasingly to fruit- and vegetable-based snacks to give kids (and themselves) a between-meals boost they can feel good about.
For the 12 months ending in September, fresh produce and shelf-stable fruit saw dollar sales beat even the spikes of a year ago, with dollar sales also up a whopping 16% and 17%, respectively, on a two-year stack, according to data from market researcher IRI and 210 Analytics. Produce volumes in September were down slightly from year-ago levels, but the declines were smaller than those seen this spring and summer, and pound sales were 9.6% higher than in September 2019.
“Free and clear of the effect of inflation, it shows that U.S. retailers sold 11.4% more pounds of fruit and 7.7% more pounds of vegetables in September 2021 than the same month in 2019,” 210 Analytics President Anne Marie Roerink wrote in a monthly sales summary.
Beyond being a source of vital nutrients for kids and their caregivers, fresh fruits and vegetables represent an acceptable-anytime sweet treat for many label-focused parents. The Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group noted in October that sugar is the No. 1 item that U.S. adults look for on product labels, with 56% checking sugar stats and half saying they’re trying to reduce their own sugar intake. And because what’s good for the goose is often good for the gander, individually portioned fresh fruit and vegetable snacks designed with kids in mind make for an appealing no-sugar-added snacking option.
Increasingly, they’re also incorporating a variety of tastes: Pure Flavor’s Mini Munchies Snack Sized Veggies packs, for example, feature peppers, tomatoes and mini cucumbers. Three Sweet Snacking Tomatoes packages feature separated portions of red, orange and gold snacking tomatoes.
Mini/cocktail cucumbers and snack peppers have taken off in recent years, Pure Flavor Chief Marketing Officer Chris Veillon notes, as consumers embrace broadening their fresh-snacking horizons. Pure Flavor’s Uno Bite Nano Cucumbers, with a tagline inviting consumers to “hydrate by the handful,” are small enough to have a fun factor for kids but also are a low-calorie, satisfyingly crunchy snack option for adults, Veillon suggests. Like all Pure Flavor products, they are non-GMO, grown in indoor greenhouses.
“Parents want products that are fresh and healthy with zero additives,” Veillon says. “The biggest challenge in fresh items is consistency of quality, flavor, and most importantly, availability. Greenhouse vegetables can satisfy each one of those checkmarks.”
The Snacking Lifestyle
Combining real fruits and vegetables with hunger-sating protein is another top trend in snacks across age groups. In 2019, Fresh Express launched Chiquita Bites—packaged selections of apple wedges, cheese and dried fruit, nuts, pretzels and/or grapes. “These savory snacks are made for those who are always on the go but don’t want to sacrifice nutrition,” Fresh Express states on its website. The apples, cheddar cheese and pretzels pack, a 3.3-ounce portion, boasts “8 [grams] of protein and a boost of vitamin C,” Fresh Express notes, adding, “This is a snack you can feel good about giving to your whole family.”
For older snackers embracing a plant-based lifestyle, Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based Good Foods recently introduced individually portioned, plant-based Queso Style Dip, made with cauliflower, red bell peppers and almonds. The whipped dip has less fat than traditional dairy-based queso and contains no artificial ingredients, “just 100% wholesome goodness,” Good Foods states. The product, which debuted in October, is now available at Target and Sprouts stores nationwide.
Finally, to more clearly identify for consumers the snacks designed for different appetites and nutrition needs, Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak shook up its product packaging over the summer. The supplier, which launched its sliced-apple packs in 2000, redesigned packaging for 30 SKUs and divided its product lineup into four snacking-style-based categories: fun (the Dipperz line), quick energy (Medley), mini meal replacement (Snacker) and meal solution (Café). It also launched Lunch Kitz, with apples, turkey sausage bites, and two other sweet and savory components. As with Crunch Pak’s other apples-based kids fare (including peeled apples for the youngest snackers), Lunch Kitz feature a range of popular characters, including those from “Toy Story” and “Space Jam.”
One growing trend that may challenge snack suppliers and priorities-balancing parents alike calls for more-sustainable packaging and a reduction of packaging waste. Convenient though they may be, multipack fresh snacks often are heavy on plastic packaging, the use of which many consumers and retailers seek to reduce.
“If we go back 18 months, how the consumer is viewing sustainability is completely changing," said Rick Stein, VP of fresh foods for FMI—The Food Industry Association, in a fresh-trends webinar hosted by IRI in July. “The conversation I hear the most about is packaging concerns and food waste.”
Seeing every day through the pandemic how much their household throws away and how quickly their garbage and recycling bins fill has made consumers more waste-conscious, Stein noted. These increasingly waste-conscious shoppers were among those applauding Costco’s announcement in October that it was moving from plastic clamshells to recyclable cardboard cartons for its apples. In the portability-focused snacking world, finding ways to address consumers’ multiple evolving priorities can help better position fresh-snack brands for long-term success.