Shakeup in the snack aisle

Consumers are ditching chips and chocolate for healthier snacks on the go

The way we eat is changing: that fewer and fewer of us are sitting down for three square meals a day is the new reality. It’s no surprise, then, that global spending on snacks has increased by 2% year over year, according to Nielsen, and that 45% of consumers are eating snacks as a meal replacement.

A 2015 report from Mintel, Snacking Motivations and Attitudes U.S., notes that half of adults snack two to three times per day and 33% of snackers said they’re choosing healthier options than they did the year prior.

In Canada, Mintel notes that we have the highest per capita consumption of snack bars (including granola, performance, cereal and meal replacement bars) in the world. Its most recent Canadian report (June 2017) shows 46% of consumers think snack bars are better than chocolate bars, and while nuts, chocolate and berries top the list of preferred ingredients, 30% say superfoods (such as quinoa) are appealing, too. Protein is a key consideration for 18- to 34-year-olds, while fibre is the bigger ask for the 55-plus set.

“We’re also seeing consumers, especially millennials, putting a high value on portability,” says Joel Gregoire, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “They’re looking for nutritious snacks that give them energy and fill the gap between meals.”

Manufacturers are taking note. “The growing consumer demand for convenience and healthy portable products has been a major factor in the development of our newest product lines,” says Dionysios Christou, VP marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce. The company’s Fresh Cut Grab-N-Go fruit and vegetable line comes in non-spill, resealable containers that fit conveniently into a car cup holder. There’s also a new range of on-the-go, preservative-free Smoothie Kits with flavours such as Super Fruit, ‘C’ Your Vitamins and Antioxidant. Since the mixtures are pre-measured, consumers simply add their favourite beverage, or ice, and blend. “The demand for fresh portable food items continues to surge as on-the-go consumers become more aware of their health and the types of quick, healthy options available to them,” says Christou.

With the health-conscious, busy millennial in mind, new Toronto-based company Handfuel launched a line of grab-and-go, gluten-free trail mixes last year. The snacks are made with premium ingredients and are big on flavour. The Vitalizer, for example, contains hazelnuts, dried fruit, gluten-free grains and sun flower seeds. The products come in 190-gram resealable pouches and will soon be available in 40-gram single-serve options as well. “We did test marketing to figure out what we could do that was different and realized people want clean food that they feel good about putting into their bodies,” says company founder Cole Richman, noting that all flavour combinations for Handfuel products were designed by a health and wellness chef. “The millennials are a big part of our customer base, but we’re also targeting parents looking for healthy, on-the-go snacks for their kids,” he says.

Targeting the health-conscious parent, Naturipe Farms offers triple-washed single-serve blueberry and blueberry/ grape snack packs to add to a lunch box or to take to the office. Dole offers fresh strawberries in the same format.

With the boundaries between snacks and meals shifting, analysts say we’ll see a foray into some pretty innovative snack territory in the future. “We’re seeing a real blurring of lines in terms of the range of products for snacks and I expect that trend to intensify,” says Frank Jiang, Euromonitor’s Canadian research analyst. “The younger demographic wants variety, innovation and unconventional flavours.”

Jiang says, given the rising popularity of ethnic foods, we can expect to see more savoury flavours cropping up in snack bars, and even in yogurt. “In the next few years, we may see sesame seeds and olive oil in a wider range of snack food, too,” he says, adding that he expects even more superfoods (Ancient grains, chia etc.) to appear in yogurts as well. “We’re definitely going to see a crossover of flavours.”

Saskatchewan-based Three Farmers is already proving that forecast accurate by turning high-fibre chickpeas into addictive crunchy snacks that aim to give traditional potato chips some stiff competition. The products come in trendy flavours such as sea salt and lime, barbecue, and balsamic and cracked pepper. “We launched our chickpeas three years ago with great success,” says Elysia Vandenhurk, co-owner, chief operating officer and trained Red Seal chef. “Most people know hummus and that it’s made of chickpeas so they’re willing to try it as a healthy snack. But what really captures them is that Saskatchewan grows 80% of Canada’s chickpeas and that it’s one of our top exports.”

Last fall, the company added green peas to the lineup with the launch of Pea Pops. Vandenhurk says there are even more legume-based snacks in the pipeline. “We’re looking at other crops we grow in Saskatchewan because we feel it’s innovative and on trend with healthy snacking,” she says. “I don’t think this trend has hit its peak yet.”

While millennials are the target market expected to drive healthy portable snacking over the next few years, analysts warn that manufacturers and retailers shouldn’t neglect the boomers, either. “Canada has an aging population,” says Mintel’s Gregoire. “One of the challenges will be finding ways to make snacks that are appealing to them, too.”

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Canadian Grocer.

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