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Healthy and Not so Healthy Snacking

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Much before the era of globalisation, 73 year old biscuit pioneer Parle G positioned itself around ‘Swaad bhare, Shakti bhare, Parle-G’ Glucose biscuits and one of the first to have Indian superman Shaktimaan as its endorser. All this to get an approval from mothers who are forever on a look out for healthy food for their children. Last year, when launched baked 50-50 Snackuits (a product described as bridging the gap between biscuits and snacks), it attributed its success to housewives – the health keepers of the family – who account for half of the packaged snack sales in India. Today, the company expects its 50-50 Snackuits to contribute 10 percent to its sales in the short term.

“Apart from healthy options like whole wheat/multigrain noodles, cornflakes with organic options, energy bars, and flavoured milk, there is a strong presence of the regional portfolio of Indian healthy snacks such as chikkies and various cereal and seed-based Indian sweets,” says , President, Food Bazaar Future Group. “There are also the Gujarati farsan and wafers that are usually fried, but many companies are attempting to offer healthier non-fried options.”

Convenience with health

Healthy food is becoming a fast-growing category. Rising awareness and affluence have made health food products accessible to a larger segment of the population. A report by DuPont states that globally, there is a growing concern among parents for products that address healthy growth, development of the immunity system, and digestive and oral health. A USDA survey of nearly 10,000 children revealed that twice as many kids today eat snack foods than 20 years ago. For children younger than nine, nearly half of their recommended caloric intake comes from snacks.

With children playing a major role in purchase decisions, parents are actively seeking foods that improve the nutrient density of their child’s overall diet. They want food that is gluten-free, organic, whole grains, omega-3 and vitamin and mineral-fortified, and above all, delicious. To address every mother’s concern, Britannia Tiger has undergone a considerable shift in its product offering by transforming into a healthier and tastier avatar. Identifying the role of biscuits as an important component of daily food and a major carrier of nutrition, Britannia Tiger fortified itself with growth nutrients like iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamin A and D, packed with 25 percent of daily growth nutrients.

The recent ban on junk food in schools in the wake of rising obesity amongst school children has brought back the focus on healthy eating. The tiffin, which used to consist mainly of paranthas, idli, etc, now has children demanding more variety. Says Komal Sahni Roy, Research Director at TNS India, “Children are involved in many more activities now as compared to the generation before. They are always on the go – be it for tuitions, play classes, or extra curricular activities. This has resulted in increased snacking occasions to keep them satiated till the next meal.”

The biggest challenge for parents is removing their children’s mental block that healthy food is low on taste. Keeping this perception in mind, Del Monte’s health range includes ‘100 percent fruit’ juices such as apple and mixed fruit as a healthier alternative to colas. The company also offers dried fruits like California Prunes, dried apricots, and dried cranberries, which are fat and cholesterol free, and a source of vitamins and minerals along with dietary fiber and anti-oxidants.

“Atleast 30 percent contribution of our total B2C sales comes from the healthy range of products,” reveals , CEO, FieldFresh Foods Pvt Ltd. “Our olive oil range is highly popular amongst Indian mothers given its health benefits and is extensively used by them to make tasty Indian and international snacks. We are also seeing an increasing demand for on-the-go healthy snacking, and have introduced smaller travel packs of130 and 40 gms for prunes and dried cranberries, which children to easily carry with them.”

Health indulgent foods

“The notion of ‘healthy indulgence’ is driving the need for ingredient modification in snacks as well, and the inclusion of new categories under the purview of snacking. Both lifestyle changes and increased awareness levels have created demand for healthy between-meal snacks,” says P. Rashmi Upadhya, Associate Director-Strategy, .

“Like any category, many products contain healthy and nutritional ingredients and many are probably on the edge in terms of health. Most brands from larger Indian and international MNCs will carry the best permissible ingredients as they are very quality conscious, and will not put any ingredients that are even marginally unhealthy or risky,” says , Partner, Head – Retail, KPMG in India.

Several companies are creating value additions in their products for the health and taste benefits, for instance, Amul’s probiotic icecreams, probiotic lassi, high calcium milk; butter with no or reduced salt, Dabur’s vegetable juices, ITC Foods’ Benne Vita Flax Seed biscuits, Frito Lay, etc. The snack food division of , was one of the first to do away with transfat and MSG across the entire range of its foods. Healthy Bite namkeens are grain-based, which make them much healthier than the ordinary paste-based namkeens available in the market. Further, they are prepared by roaster technique that not only makes them easier to digest but also retains their natural vitamins, fibres and proteins. Demand for roasted snacks has risen appreciably, and comprise 25 percent of India’s namkeen sales.

Tesco offers 48 products, including chicken and vegetable smiley pie, shepherd’s pie and sweet and sour chicken, all of which meet nutritional guidelines that limit use of artificial additives, salt and sugar levels.

Vegetables or fruits are being added to increase the amount consumed by children. Greenways Foods & Beverages’ Notty drink for children is a rich source of dietary fibre and vitamins A,C,E and does not contain any kind of synthetic ingredients or stimulants in its formulation, according to the company. Kids & Babies account for a 22 percent share of the Indian Syrups & Spreads market by value. “More and more parents now prefer packaged juices more than the coloured CSDs (continuous sugar dissolver) given the negatives associated with these drinks and positives of fruits and fibre in the juices,” comments Komal S Roy.

How healthy are packaged snacks and drinks?

From baked wafers, oat biscuits and energy drinks, to diet bhel, low-calorie sweets, etc,  brands are claiming their products are healthier, and therefore better than their fried or sugar-loaded counterparts. But how nutritive are they really?

For established brands, this is a double-edged sword, as the healthy snack category, while growing sales the category to some extent, threatens to cannibalise their other products. “A company cannot suddenly dive into healthier products. If the brand is famous for its pizzas and burgers, will consumers want to buy salads or healthy foods from them?” questions Nidhi Sharma, consumer and parent of two school going kids. Many brands are leveraging their offerings on the magic word ‘sugar-free’ or are marketing them as healthy, low-fat, or diet, but the real information on the quantity of ingredients used or the process of making the product healthy is not disclosed. The fact is that many companies use the same amount of fat in the dough and then bake or roast them instead of frying them.

Acccording to health nutritionist Pooja Sanghvi “Health drinks like Boost, Complan or Horlicks are not needed routinely. It is only a requirement for children who are active in sports, or involved in a lot of physical activities, and need to boost their energy. Health drinks are made of milk, grains, etc, and fortified with vitamins and minerals, but they also contain preservatives. On the other hand, ‘natural’ drinks like coconut water, lime juice, fresh fruit juices, and electrolyte powders are a healthy source of energy and nutrients. Even fruit milkshakes and soya milk are good sources of essential proteins, vitamins and energy. Child nutritionist Tina Desai feels that not all brands are unhealthy as they do  provide additional proteins and nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, etc, which are good for the child’s bones and strength development, but they may not have substantial amounts of these nutrients to have a significant effect on the child’s growth. She emphasises that parents should select the right food brand after consulting a dietician as per the child’s current growth and requirement.

Though consumer demand is diversifying towards healthier products, healthy snacks is yet to find a good hold in the Indian market. PepsiCo, GSK Consumer Healthcare and Marico are revisiting healthy snacks recipes, their target audience, and product propositions to address specific consumer needs. The Health & Wellness sector is estimated at Rs 7,000 to 8,000 crore annually for products targeted at grown-ups and another Rs 10,000 crore approximately for products targeted at children.Unfortunately, many brands have failed to crack the health segment due to the taste and health preferences of Indian consumers. Failed attempts in the healthy snacking category include Parle’s sugar-free fruit drinks, and Safola Zest (baked snacks) from Marico, besides others. Most brands that launched low-fat and fat-free, low-cholesterol products or with health nutrients have found volumes lagging and piling up on store shelves.

“The category that has seen a shift in sales and demand is the edible oils, where consumers have switched quickly to healthy cooking oils. It is probably because awareness and government initiatives spread by the media about health and heart related illness. Here, consumers see a direct connection between edible oils and health/heart,” says Rajat Wahi. “However, there is much lower awareness amongst consumers when it comes to levels of sugars, salt, fat, cholesterol, etc, in packaged foods,” he ads.

“While some categories contain nutritional ingredients for being health food, categories such as noodles and chips are being repositioned as healthy (a marketing ploy) to boost sales. Several research studies have indicated that they contain a high level of sodium and fat and a significantly low fibre content,” observes P. Rashmi.

From the brands’ perspective, healthy variants are worth launching provided consumers are demanding them, and are willing to pay a premium for them.

Industry facts

According to a PwC-FICCI report, nutrition foods, beverages and supplements comprise Rs 14,500 to 15,000-crore market in India, growing at a CAGR of 10 to12 percent. A research report by Tata Strategic Management classifies H&W products into three sections: the better-for-you (BFY), Functional and Natural. The BFY segment comprises of low-cholesterol, edible oils, zero percent transfat snacks and biscuits, slim milk, curd, ice creams and diet colas. The Functional or fortified category comprises of iodine-fortified salt, biscuits, energy drinks, and breakfast cereals fortified with micro-nutrients. The Natural foods category is 100 percent natural fruit juices and pickles without preservatives. The BFY category is the smallest (3-5% of the total market) and yet the fastest growing. Added/high in fiber, wholegrain and low/reduced fat have the highest influence on Indian consumers’ product choice, and demand for these is set to increase.

The H&W segment is still niche and the Indian market for healthy variants has yet to evolve. Sedentary lifestyles are a feature of the metros only and there are only a few pockets demanding health inclusive foods. Despite their search for healthy nutrients, Indian consumers do not compromise on taste. Hence, health and wellness foods are not going down too well with them, despite marketers making a play for them.

In order to attract this segment, the entire value proposition has to be designed in terms of the product, pricing, packaging, benefits, taste, ingredients, etc. Healthy eating habits needs to be inculcated amongst children to help them make informed eating choices. The category will continue to grow, but slowly, and will require a lot of awareness building and public messaging. While healthy snacks is going to drive the food categories going forward, the take up has been slow on this front both from parents and kids. “My view is that given the low levels of hygiene that our children are exposed to from street food vendors and dhabas, which are probably never checked for hygiene levels or quality of ingredients, packaged snacks in most cases offer a healthier option,” comments Wahi.

“At Food Bazar, while the sales is less than 2 percent of processed foods, we are looking at strong growths in these categories in times to come owing to consumer trends,” maintains Chawla.

Moderation is key when it comes to consumption, as many packaged foods contain high levels of sugar, salt, and saturated fats, and greater awareness is required to separate  the myths from facts. Companies that claim healthy/nutritional ingredients and health benefits of their offerings, need to do more to educate people so that they can differentiate their products, and convert shoppers to consumers, especially the children.