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Snack to the Future

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Healthier snacks show no signs of slowing down. “Since 2004, the number of consumers categorised as ‘healthy snackers’ has grown from 29 million to 41 million, or from 14 percent to 18 percent of the population,” notes Rockville, Maryland-based market intelligence firm Packaged Facts. “Healthy snackers form the core of a crucial consumer segment that is driven by health-and-wellness concerns and drawn to snacks derived from healthy ingredients such as vegetables, legumes, high-protein foods and ancient grains.”

Given these burgeoning numbers, some grocers are moving to meet customer demand through innovative programmes highlighting the segment. “Our ‘Defy It With Your Diet’ programme teaches and encourages shoppers to choose healthful snack alternatives by placing informational ‘Did You Know?’ nutritional tags next to the product,” says Janet Little, director of nutrition at Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market, which has more than 170 stores across nine states. “For example, ‘Fiber-rich foods help lower cholesterol levels and normalise blood glucose levels’ is in front of high-fiber foods such as chia seed snacks.”

For others, more tried-and-true methods prevail. “We constantly have sampling, throughout our stores, of new products, allowing our customers to try out the different brands and provide feedback,” observes George Zoitas, CEO of Westside Market NYC, which operates four stores in the Big Apple. “We like to have our customers sample the items first before we commit to putting them on the shelves.”

Cash in the Chips

Among the better-for-you snack trends that food retailers have noticed is the dazzling variety of chips now available in the segment, including ones made from unusual ingredients.

“We have seen healthier versions of chips,” affirms Zoitas. “This is such a universal snack that people love to eat, but also sometimes feel guilty about enjoying, so if there is a healthier version, they would prefer to eat the alternative.”

“The chip category is exploding with healthier options,” says Little. “We’re seeing kale chips, zucchini chips, bean chips, and, just the other day, I tried an egg-white barbecue chip that was fantastic. Due to the positive responses from our customers at Sprouts, we are expanding our selections of healthier chips.” She also mentions the popularity of “packaged raw foods snacks — nuts, seeds, dried fruits and vegetables — among mainstream shoppers.”

Fitting within both of those trends are Wonderfully Raw’s Brussel Bytes and Snip Chips — snacks made from Brussels sprouts and parsnips, respectively. The Watsonville, California-based small family business developed the product lines “so consumers have snacking options that are gluten-free, certified organic, vegan and, quite possibly, the best vegetables they may ever taste,” declares CEO Sequoia Cheney. “With the introduction of these products in several great flavours, we believe we are taking healthy snacking to a whole new level.”

To get the word out about Wonderfully Raw’s products, which also include CocoRoons, made from organic coconut and sweetened with organic maple syrup, Cheney reasons that “since we are innovators in a new, growing section of the market, … having demos at store level for our consumers is key.”

Another recent addition is Ocean’s Halo Seaweed Chips, which the company’s co-founders, Michael Shim and Robert Mock, describe as offering “5 grams of protein, (fewer) than 100 calories and an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals, along with the delicious, savoury crunch that everyone loves when snacking on chips.” The snack, described by the co-founders as the first to be “made from sustainably harvested and nutrient-rich seaweed,” debuted last September at Natural Products Expo East and comes in four gluten-free flavours, with new varieties already in the pipeline.

Burlingame, California-based Ocean’s Halo sold its 100,000th bag not long ago, and reorders are “way above projections,” according to Shim and Mock, who add that “we often hear that a crunchy chip is what has been missing for seaweed lovers across the country, and our experience with consumers and retailers at our sampling events has been overwhelming.”

When it comes to promoting the unique snack, they “focus almost all of our marketing efforts on in-store and lifestyle event sampling, as well as targeted social media engagement.”

The “most distinct point of difference” of Way Better Snacks’ minimally processed products, asserts Jim Breen, CEO and founder of -based Live Better Brands LLC, “is the inclusion of nutritionally superior sprouted grains, seeds and beans,” including chia, flax, quinoa, daikon radish, broccoli, kale, brown rice, black beans, mustard seeds and red fife. “Thanks to sprouting, our consumers benefit even more from these super-ingredients, because sprouting activates the seed’s nutrients, enhances their absorption and aids in digestion,” explains Breen. Among the company’s newest rollouts are Simply Spicy Sriracha and Simply Tangy Mustard & Onion Tortilla chips, introduced in February, and Simply Sprouted “Pita-ahh” Chips, featuring heritage grains red fife and spelt, which launched in January.

The company’s “very impactful” marketing strategy involves “activating consumers to seek out and purchase our products at retail by executing an impressive number of community and educational events,” notes Breen. “We also are aggressive in seeking opportunities to partner with our retailers’ marketing initiatives. And, of course, we have a keen focus on our [in-store] consumers … by educating and sampling them through demo and display programmes.”

Sprouting Sales

Speaking of sprouted snacks, The Perfect Snaque sells three product lines all featuring sprouted lentils: Quinoa Crunch, Seasoned Sprouted Lentil and Skinny Trail Mix. Now available in single-serve bags, the items have received an enthusiastic response from health-conscious consumers, says the Hamilton Township, New Jersey-based company’s founder, Cricket Allen, who notes, “They love the versatility of our varieties as ready-to-eat snacks or as healthy, tasty toppers to other favourite foods such as yogurt, salads and sandwiches.”

The Perfect Snaque’s impressive marketing arsenal includes “sampling at point of purchase as well as temporary price reduction,” observes Allen. “We work closely with grocers that employ nutritionists and dietitians on various events, to help increase trial and demonstrate the product benefits to their customer base. We are merchandised among New Age snacks (raw, kale chips, nuts, etc), as well at the register and in grab-and-go sections. We look for point-of-purchase marketing opportunities that build awareness with our customers’ consumers — we’ll use social media (with) live event pictures, recipes and videos to promote from our sites, or from the nutritionist’s site, to build excitement and interest in-store and with followers. Additionally, we are focussed on creating brand ambassadors, so we send and leave samples with store employees to try. This has provided an immense amount of support at the store level, so employees can authentically speak about our products with their consumers.”

Totally Nuts — and Seeds

Nuts have been around for a long time, but as , director of marketing at Sacramento, California-based Blue Diamond Growers, points out, they’re a superbly healthy snack, particularly almonds, a handful of which “contains high amounts of protein, fiber, mono-unsaturated fat, vitamin E, calcium and phytochemicals that may help protect against many common diseases.”

Although he notes that “Blue Diamond’s entire product line has been created to offer a bundle of nutritional benefits,” the company’s items designed to appeal specifically to health-concerned consumers include “our whole natural almonds; our low-sodium varieties, which contain 50 percent less sodium than our roasted salted almonds; our oven-roasted flavors, which are dry-roasted with no added oils; and lastly, our Nut Thin cracker line, which was one of the first gluten-free snacks on the market.”

Among Blue Diamond’s most recent launches are of honey-flavoured products for its Snack Almonds and Nut Thins lines, using the company’s unique honey-roast process. “Honey is growing in popularity as a great natural alternative to sugar,” explains Greenlee. “Our newest honey flavours mix the subtly sweet essence of honey with forward flavours to create the perfect snack … to satisfy any craving.”

Not surprisingly, “Blue Diamond employs a number of merchandising vehicles, from pre-pack shippers, which offer ease of setup and item variety, to shelf-ready packaging structures for our line of fruit and coffee flavours, as a way of meeting retailer efficiency needs and smaller carbon footprints,” says Greenlee. “We make the shippers as simple as possible for our retail partners to set up. We also include themes on each piece to help communicate product benefits to our consumers and to encourage trial, especially for new items. We also offer shippers to fit different retailer needs, like PDQs for the drug class of trade (and) gravity-feed end caps for mass retailers.”

Blue Diamond additionally has teamed with the American Heart Association (AHA) and participated in its in-store merchandising display programme, which highlights Blue Diamond’s endorsement by AHA, locating the display pieces at the store checkout and in retailers’ prescription drug departments.

“If you’re going to eat, why not choose something that has a nutritional benefit?” posits , CEO and founder of Thanasi Foods, maker of high-protein, low-carb, low-sugar Duke’s Small Batch Smoked Meats and “our latest innovation,” Bigs Lightly Salted Pumpkin Seeds, among other products. “We believe that because of some of the health benefits that pumpkin seeds provide, retailers are going to see increasing demand in this segment,” he predicts. “Pumpkin seeds are loaded with vitamins and minerals like magnesium, B vitamins, iron and vitamin K. They also provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which contribute to greater focus and overall mind health. As we see it, why shouldn’t snacking provide some benefits to your diet?”

In terms of marketing, the Boulder, Colorado-based company is “working with retailers to provide a healthy-snacking ‘hub’ for shoppers,” notes Havlick. “We’re finding that stand-alone, out-of-category floor displays that provide shoppers an array of healthy snacking solutions for a variety of occasions … are a great way to introduce innovations and drive incremental purchases.”

North Haven, Connecticut-based , an eight-flavour line of all-natural, no-shell, vegan gourmet pumpkin seeds that recently launched new packaging, likewise plays up its nosh’s nutritional credentials, while making sure shoppers know it’s delicious too. “Like any product that has a taste advantage, we like to get in the consumer’s mouth,” says company founder Kathie Pelliccio. “We have also been pretty aggressive in educating consumers about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds. From a merchandising perspective, we also rely on display programmes and consistent promotions.”

Snack Wise

With the rise of snacking in place of full meals, it’s likely that consumers would want to get the most out of their eating occasions by turning to better-for-you snacks. “Consumers are smarter than ever before, read labels more than ever and research products at the point of purchase with their smartphones,” affirms Thanasi’s Havlick. “They are more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies, and if they can find a snack that has a functional benefit, they are reaching for it over junk food.” Blue Diamond’s Greenlee agrees.

The decision to snack more healthfully will undoubtedly be made easier by better products from which to choose. “Tastes and textures are increasingly improving, plus variety, quality and flavour profile are also expanding,” observes Sprouts’ Little. “I think we’ll continue to see more offerings of healthier snacks that include whole vegetables, seeds and ancient grains.”

“The future of healthier snacks is very promising, as the population continues to age and consumers try to improve their quality of life,” says Greenlee, forecasting “a number of new snack products targeted toward weight management, sodium reduction and gluten intolerance.”

As more consumers than ever incorporate snacks into their daily diets, who’d expect anything less?