When fending off hunger cravings, most snackers prefer to eat healthy snacks, with 78% of the snacks consumed being reported as healthy. The good news for snack companies and consumers alike is that a large demand for healthy snacks creates a need for healthy snack innovation. According to Mintel, creating nutritious snacks is no longer a trend, “but a competitive necessity. When coupled with health and wellness trends, staying in the healthy snack market necessitates constant innovation”. However, consumers should be aware that some innovations might be better suited to them than others.
One of the newest trends we have seen over the past few years is a rise in gluten-free snacks, with a 933% increase in new product growth since 2004. According to Mintel, growing awareness of gluten allergies and intolerances has lead many manufacturers to either emphasize the lack of gluten in their products or to create new versions of their products without gluten. For the three million consumers who suffer from Celiac Disease, gluten intolerance, or other health disorders that are believed to be helped by a gluten-free diet, this recent surge of innovation is long overdue and is a trend to be loved. However it is important to note that gluten-free products are not good for everyone. For consumers who are healthy and do not have gluten-sensitivity, gluten-free products can be more harmful then good.
Like many other food allergies, those who suffer from gluten-intolerance cannot digest the protein in wheat. Gluten-free products therefore either use other grains that don’t contain the gluten protein or use formulations where the protein has been removed from the grain. While this enables those with gluten-sensitivity to enjoy the luxury of eating wheat-based products again, like sandwich bread, removing the gluten protein usually eliminates all nutritional value, making many gluten-free products only empty carbs. So while whole wheat bread delivers vital nutrients to those without gluten-intolerance, gluten-free bread is nothing more then a vehicle for the ham and cheese.
However, the nutritional emptiness of gluten-free products presents a large opportunity that has largely remained unmet by food manufacturers. One of the effects of Celiac Disease is that sufferers are unable absorb enough of the vitamins and minerals they desperately need, causing many celiac suffers to become malnourished. Since celiac sufferers need nutritionally fortified products more then the average person, innovation of fortified gluten-free offerings, especially fortified sandwich bread, remain one of the largest opportunities in the allergen-free product market.
Another hot spot of recent innovation has been in the energy bar market. According to Mintel, 44% of healthy snackers are interested in snacks that “boost their energy and deliver functional nutrition in a convenient, portable form”. Bars that contain easily recognizable functional ingredients, such as iron, vitamin C, magnesium, folic acid, caffeine, vitamins B12, B3, B5, and B6B and protein, are especially popular with consumers. BALANCE Bar and Kind Snacks Fruit & Nut bars are two of the best innovators in the field according to Mintel. BALANCE Bar’s 40-30-30 specialized formulas stabilize blood sugar levels by including carbohydrates, proteins, and good fats that provide long-lasting energy and satiation. Kind Snacks, on the other hand, contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help the body convert food into energy, as well as promote immunity and skin health.
There are a variety of opportunities for innovation in this market, including formulations that target specific users as well as flavor innovation. CLIF LUNA and CLIF Kid bars, for example, are specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of active women and kids and come in a variety of flavors and textures. While most energy bars are sweet, recently we have seen savory bars, such as Journey Bars that come in Parmesan and Coconut Curry flavors, become increasingly popular.
Fruit snacks have also been experiencing a lot of innovative growth lately. Due to their simple ingredients, long shelf life and wide appeal, fruit snacks have become popular snacks for children and adults looking for an inherently healthy snack. Fruit bars and dried fruit slices are easy to eat on the go and come in portion control sizes. In addition, many of these snacks can be easily fortified with vitamins such as calcium, and vitamins D and C, vitamins kids need to grow strong and maintain immune health.
In addition to flavors, salty snacks have recently experienced a wave of innovation aimed at creating healthier options. General Mills, for example, has reduced the sodium content of their Chex Mix by 36%. In addition, other companies have focused on creating substitutions for traditional salty snacks, such as Beanfields Crispylicious bean and rice chips and Food Should Taste Good sweet potato tortilla chips. Unique flavors contributed by unusual bases will appeal to trendy, young foodies who are looking to healthier options without sacrificing flavor.
All in all, there are a lot of new product innovations coming out that are worthy of a little love and excitement. While some snacks are more appropriate for some then others, it is clear that increased interest in healthy snacks has prompted innovation in a number of fields, all of which have yielded some extremely tasty results.