Health Is In the Eye of the Eater

Now that the holiday season has come to an end, and all the holiday cakes, cookies and chocolates have been enjoyed, the season of cheer is over and the season of responsible eating has begun. Gone are those glorious days when the single oatmeal chocolate shot cookie you grabbed while running out the door can be considered a “reasonable” snack by virtue it being made of oatmeal and that you only grabbed one.

Looking back, its rather interesting how context can affect your view of a healthy snack. While there is that 9% who view cookies as a healthy snack all year round, unfortunately for the rest of us, we know that fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are what constitute as healthy snacks. Not surprisingly, these three groups are part of the six groups highlighted by the USDA’s food pyramid. However, these are the items that also tend to be less portable then other snacks. While the majority know what constitutes as a healthy snack, portability is a major deciding factor which leads to “snack compromise”, or a lowering of the “health acceptance” bar, as seen in the oatmeal cookie situation.

According to Mintel, in addition to the three food groups listed above, the top fifteen snacks include yogurt, dried fruit, trail mix, cheese, popcorn, rice cakes, frozen yogurt, cereal, snack bars, fruit snacks, pretzels and crackers. While crackers and cereal are viewed as more processed, and thus less healthful then whole food snacks such as fruits and vegetables, their portability makes them more popular snacks then the healthier, whole food choices, especially when compared to other portable snack options such as chips.

This can be most clearly seen when it comes to parents purchasing snacks for kids. According to Mintel, parents tend to have a skewed perception of what constitutes as a healthy snack due to the fact that they are looking for a snack that is not only nutritious but is also something their kids will eat. As many parents can attest, animal crackers and graham crackers are popular snack choices for young kids, but are mostly considered healthy due to their preferred flavor profile, small serving size and portability, rather then their intrinsic health benefits. Sound familiar?

In the end, the perception of health is dependent on what each consumer views as important health benefits and how those benefits are weighed against portability. According to Mintel, companies should make snacks that are not only portable, but that include vitamins and minerals so that they can make legitimate nutritional health claims. In this way consumers can purchase snacks that not only have the benefits they want but also have the portability they need.

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