Healthy choices driving innovation in snacking globally

12 Nov 2015

Even though health is often not a key driver in snacks purchasing and consumption decisions, manufacturers continue to position products on health platforms of various kinds, from the passive, such as low-fat, low-calorie, natural, etc., to the active, such as functional, added-calcium and vitamin-and-mineral fortified, as well as offering specific health benefits, such as bone health or heart health.

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The snack foods market, as defined by Innova Market Insights, includes not only traditional savory or salty snacks and snack nuts and seeds, but also products such as meat snacks, popcorn and fruit-based snacks, as well as finger foods and hors d’oeuvres. Using this definition, 38% of global snacks launches recorded in the 12 months to the end of April 2015 were positioned on a health platform of some kind, rising to over 70% in the US. The majority of these concerned passive benefits, with issues over naturalness and clean labelling continuing to dominate. Natural, no additives/preservatives and/or organic claims featured on nearly a quarter of global launches, rising to nearly 44% in the US.

Gluten-free also continues to feature strongly, used on 13% of global launches and 40% in the US. In terms of product and market development, the snacks category benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snacks ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, soya and nuts, are naturally gluten-free, so it is a claim that is relatively easy to achieve in many instances. Ingredients used to replace wheat or other cereals and offer a gluten-free formulation in the US over the past few years have included lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables.

Another key trend starting to impact snacks, along with most of the rest of the food and drinks market is the focus on protein and protein content. Just under 4% of total snack foods launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of April 2015 used a high-in or source-of protein positioning, rising to nearly 13% in the US. As might be expected, some categories that are naturally high in protein or perceived to be good sources of protein have been using this type of claim more widely, perhaps most notably meat snacks, where it featured on nearly 15% of global launches, rising to over 50% in the US.

The use of low and light claims also continues and the snacks industry has worked hard in recent years to improve the nutritional profile of its standard products and brands. There have been ongoing moves to reduce fat and salt levels and with its dominance of the US and global snacks markets PepsiCo has been a leader in this area. Initiatives in low and light variants began as long ago as the mid-1980s, with the initial focus on fat reduction and the use of healthier fats. More recently salt levels have been an area of interest.

In the search for healthy options, new types of product have also been introduced offering low and light alternatives and in bagged snacks this has been led by popped snacks. Made with potato or corn flakes or other cereal pieces, popped chips are turned into crisps using heat and pressure, and are marketed as a healthier, guilt-free option to standard fried and baked products.

The original Popchips brand was launched in the US in 2007 and has continued to perform well in spite of the subsequent arrival of other versions from heavyweight brands, including Kellogg’s Special K Cracker Crisps, Mondelez’ Nabisco Wheat Thins Popped, General Mills’ Chex Mix Popped and, perhaps most notably, US snacks market leader FritoLay (PepsiCo), which introduced its Lay’s Air Popped in 2013. Popchips’ initiatives to maintain its competitiveness have included the 2014 launch of a Veggie Chips sub-brand, made with a blend of 9 vegetables (kale, spinach, tomato, pumpkin, potato, beet, bell pepper, navy bean and chickpea). In the meantime the ‘popped’ concept has spread to other sectors, including tortilla chips, led by Balance Foods’ Poptillas.

Popped snacks may be one of the up-and-coming sectors of the snacks market, but there appears to still be some mileage in the traditional popcorn market, both in the US and Europe, with gourmet lines, already established in the US, starting to make their way across the Atlantic to Europe, bringing a whole raft of more complex flavors and moving the sector away from its traditional ‘cinema’ image and a simple sweet or salty flavor choice. Popcorn can also tick the box in terms of health, being natural, low in calories and high in fibre and, with new bold flavors and flavor combinations, including combos with kernels and other, sometimes more unusual, ingredients, looks set to continue its growth.

As the definition of snacking has continued to broaden it seems clear that high levels of new product and promotional activity are continuing to drive sales in more traditional snacks markets. While offering a relatively healthy profile appears to continue to be important, it is perhaps less of a driver than the current focus on premium and super-premium products, often with unusual flavors and ingredients, the development of existing brands, the use of new ingredients and formats and the targeting of new usage occasions.

Lu Ann Williams, Innova Market Insights

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