Demand for healthy snacks is growing, as consumers seek out better-for-you ways to satiate their cravings. Research from NielsenIQ reveals many snack categories saw increased sales over the past year in Canada, including healthier options like “snacking fruits, nuts and seeds,” which grew by 15% to $949 million, and “puffed cakes” (such as rice cakes), which grew by 18% to $102 million. And globally, the healthy snacks market is forecast to reach $98 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 5.8% between 2020 and 2025, according to Euromonitor International.
As more proof of better-for-you snacking’s popularity, even heavyweight companies like Mondelēz and Mars are eager to get in on the action. Earlier this year, Mondelēz International acquired Hu Products, which specializes in vegan and paleo-friendly chocolate bars; while Mars acquired healthy snack company KIND North America in late 2020.
The growth of the healthy snack category is largely being driven by younger generations, suggests Dana McCauley, director of New Venture Creation at the University of Guelph. By contrast, “baby boomers tend to still eat three meals a day,” she explains.
The pandemic has spurred snacking in general (a 2020 survey from The Hartman Group showed 35% of consumers said they were snacking more often), including healthier options. “Snacking overall as a category has surged because of people being home and able to graze all day versus being in the office or at school,” says Melinda Zoccoli, vice-president marketing and supplier services for United Natural Foods (UNFI).
Zoccoli adds the pandemic has also impacted which healthy snack formats consumers prefer. She notes, for example, that larger, family-size snack formats were more in demand over the past year. Jamie Lee, co-founder of Remix Snacks, has observed a similar trend. “We’ve been seeing less single-serving snacks and people have been buying more bulk items,” she says. “There’s no more need for putting it in your purse or backpack to go to school.”
The pandemic also seems to have fuelled consumer desire for snacks that offer “permissible indulgence,” as Wade Crouch, head of marketing at Riverside Natural Foods (a company with brands that include MadeGood and Good To Go) describes it. “People just want to treat themselves a little, and food is a good comforting factor, especially in these uncertain times,” says Crouch. He says consumers are drawn to snacks that help them achieve their health goals while also satisfying a craving, adding that Riverside has seen an uptick in sales of its chocolate SKUs in recent months as a result of this trend.
Remix’s Lee believes her brand’s high-protein, high-fibre dark chocolate bark products similarly tap into this consumer desire to indulge but with a better-for-you snack. “It still tastes good, yet you’re getting some benefits and it’s keeping you full for longer,” she says.
On the savoury side, Elysia Vandenhurk, chief revenue officer for Three Farmers, says the company is leveraging consumer interest in healthier alternatives by creating roasted pulse snacks with traditional chip-like flavours. “We’ve taken the approach to make sure that we use very familiar, craveable flavours,” says Vandenhurk, highlighting products such as Dill Pickle Roasted Peas and Sea Salt & Vinegar Roasted Lentils.
When it comes to the nutritional benefits consumers are seeking from healthy snacks, high-protein options are among the most popular. “Those diets that people have created tribes around, such as keto and paleo [diets], there are huge snacking innovation opportunities there,” explains McCauley. “They keep launching products, so that does seem like a fairly insatiable market.”
Riverside’s Crouch says Good To Go bars have been a hit with consumers because they’re keto-friendly while also having a cake-like texture that feels like a treat. “It’s low-sugar and keto-friendly but it’s also really honing in on that indulgence trend people are looking for,” he says.
Three Farmers is also doubling down on its high-protein offerings with the launch of its new roasted fava bean products, which feature almost double the amount of protein as the brand’s popular chickpea snacks, according to Vandenhurk.