Healthy-snacks market keeps getting healthier

Snacking is not just a modern phenomenon, according to Julian Mellentin — editor of New Nutrition Business magazine. In a new report 'Ten Key Trends in Food, Nutrition and Health 2007,' he claims today's snacking needs are surprisingly similar to the city-based Romans of 2,000 years ago when vendors of roasted almonds, chestnuts and other snacks sold in cones of paper made perfect portable snacks for urban Romans.

Perhaps one significant difference is the force and speed with which health is redefining snacking. Such is the pace of change that five years ago if anyone said that PepsiCo, the world's biggest salty-snack company with more than $10 billion in sales, would be reconfiguring its entire product portfolio to not only respond to the change but to lead it, they would not have been taken seriously. Recognising this surprising development, PepsiCo shows a refreshing sense of humour by using a picture of a pig with wings as the logo on the packaging of its new apple chips.

Anything that can be made into a good-tasting fruit or dairy drink will have a place in the snacks market

Demand for snack products is increasing and can only grow more. Longer working hours, longer journeys to work, single-parent families, single-person households and an increase in the numbers of women working are all leading to the disappearance of traditional meal occasions. Even in countries like Italy and France, more and more meals and snacks are being taken alone and/or on the run.

Consumers' growing interest in the healthfulness of what they eat — and their lack of willingness to compromise on taste or extreme convenience — is having a massive impact on new-product development in the area of snacking. These days, consumers are increasingly presented with snack-product formats and ingredients that would have been unimaginable even as recently as five years ago.

There are four factors for success in this new snacking world:

  1. Excellent taste
  2. Extreme convenience
  3. Single serve
  4. No limits on innovation in packaging, ingredients or product format

In snacks, taste still rules and few are willing to compromise taste for health.

In addition, snacks often play a psychological role, providing comfort during a stressful or boring day at the office, or on the road. Snacks need to be portable and single serve, because snacking is most often a solitary activity. For instance, the biggest growth in nutritional products in recent years is in bars and single-serve beverages — products consumed by individuals who are on the go, in a hurry and most often not in a situation where they can share a meal. Products that can be grabbed for a morning or afternoon snack, that fit neatly in a pocket or bag, and that don't require a change in eating habits are the main growth categories.

Such demands require innovation. And given the convergence of innovation in processing technologies and ingredients with consumer needs, any company with an ambition in healthy snacks can't afford to make NPD plans that rule out ideas because they are unfamiliar or 'too innovative.'

The need for innovation now dictates that almost any material that can be dried, extruded, frozen, shaped, poured, puréed or whatever, to deliver a good-tasting, healthy food or beverage snack should be considered by product developers. Similarly, anything that can be made into a good-tasting fruit or dairy drink will have a place in the snack market.

These snacks will not — for now at least — be about added functional ingredients and heavy health benefits, instead they will be marketed for their intrinsic healthfulness and the 'wellness' appeal of their ingredients (which may be oats, rice, quinoa and other unusual grains, dairy products, fruit, fruit juice, and even vegetables).

Just to make the challenge more complicated, consumer research is no longer able to tell companies in advance exactly what they should be delivering — the emphasis now is on creating innovative propositions beyond consumers' imaginations, and then building consumer demand for them.

A focus on building markets for new snack concepts, rather than simply following on with predictable products, has already led to the creation of some innovative snacking concepts.

Up-and-Go, the breakfast-cereal drink by Sanitarium, is one of the most successful, recognising as it does that as many as 20-30 per cent of consumers miss a 'traditional' breakfast.

Success with healthy snacks is not the prerogative of multinationals like PepsiCo. A small, 120-year-old, privately owned UK company, Whitworth's, is enjoying 20+ per cent annual growth as a result of focusing on product and packaging innovation in healthy snacks with the aim of "defining the market and setting the trends." The company is very clear that, although it invests heavily in consumer research, its aim is to stay "ahead of trends rather than merely keeping pace with them."

Excerpted from Ten Key Trends in Food, Nutrition and Health 2007. For more information:

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