Category Archives: Snacks

Healthy Snack Innovations: Which to Love and Which to Be Wary Of

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.

Navigating the Snack Jungle

Its 3 o’clock and you are sitting at your desk working on a project for work. You are in the zone, busting out this project and all of a sudden, grrrrrrrrrowlll, your stomach rumbles and your concentration is lost. All you can think about from this point on in how hungry you are. What you need is a snack, the problem is, what should you choose?

According to Mintel, two thirds of people say they snack in between meals. In fact, many doctors recognize that snacking in-between meals can help to control hunger cravings, boost metabolism and help maintain a healthy weight. However, for many snackers, the problem is not deciding whether to snack, but what exactly to snack on, whether to avoid the temptation of the readily available, not-so-healthy snacks in favor of those that are good but not-so-available snacks.

This dilemma is often compounded by the fact that within the “healthy snack” category there is a wide range of products, from healthy to not-so-healthy munchies. For example, Mintel found that “37% of consumers consider snack/energy bars a healthy snack, yet these types of snack can range from healthy to purely indulgent”. Mintel lists Archer Farms Banana Split Indulgent Granola Bites, Price Chopper’s Market Classics Gourmet Butter Toasted Virginia Peanuts and Safeway’s Select Green Bean Crips as some of the worst offenders in the “healthy” snack category. While granola bars, peanuts and string beans are often associated as healthy foods, the second you smother them in chocolate, roast them in butter… and lets not even get started on deep-frying them, these traditionally healthy foods loose their intrinsic nutritional value. While there are several lists out there that will help you weight the merit of individual products ( and, it is mostly up to the consumer to use their common sense when navigating the snack jungle.

The key to successful navigation is to seek out information, which only 39% of snackers actively do. According to, healthy snacks usually comprise of enough calories to be satisfying (roughly 100), lower levels of saturated fats and sugars then similar snacks, vitamins and a healthy serving of other important nutrients such as whole grains, fiber (roughly 7g), and protein (roughly 9g) that have staying power.

However, not everyone wants a healthy snack when they get hungry. According to Mintel, 43% of snackers like to treat themselves to an occasional indulgent snack (I know I certainly do!) Not surprisingly, one of the most popular types of indulgent snacks are salty snacks, such as chips, which account for 86% of salty snack usage. Interestingly enough, Mintel found that “only a small percentage of respondents said that healthier attributes (e.g., whole-grain, organic, low cholesterol/salt, etc) are very important to them when selecting a salty snack”, meaning that “consumers are quite comfortable with their belief that salty snacks are indulgences to be enjoyed at its fullest without concern over any possible health implications”.

Conversely, the second most popular type of snack, brownies, are often packaged in small or single-sized portions. For ready-to-eat baked goods, quality and moderate sizes tend to be more important then calorie counting. However, it is important to be aware that, although they look to be individual portions, many of these sweet snacks contain several servings.

When looking for a snack to satisfy your food cravings, it is important to choose the correct snack, especially when it comes to choosing a healthy snack. While there are a plethora of options on the supermarket shelves, not all of them are healthy ones. By looking at nutritional panels, you will be better able to determine if the snack you are holding will help or hurt your ability to maintain your healthy and weight management goals.

Consumer Demographics and 2013 Snack Trends

Happy New Year! Here at Watson we are excited to start the New Year and, like you, have been looking ahead to what the year ahead will bring, especially in the area of healthy snacks. Lets discuss several of the factors that will be influencing healthy snack sales in 2013.

According to Mintel, there are several demographic factors that will influence snack sales in the upcoming year.

A better economy means better habits. Unfortunately, many believe that eating healthy means spending more. During the economic downturn of 2008, many people abstained from purchasing healthy snacks to “save a buck or two”. However, with the economy improving and disposable income increasing, many consumers feel more comfortable purchasing healthy snacks and feel more comfortable “splurging” on healthy food then they did a few years ago. According to Mintel, 38% of healthy snackers say they are purchasing healthier snack options this year. However, economic improvement is not good news for snack companies alone. During the uncertain economic times, many snack companies limited R&D spending and product launches to remain conservative. However, now that conditions are looking better, many snack companies have increased their R&D spending. This means more innovative and better quality snacks for consumers.

Women desire healthy snacks. According to Mintel, although women tend to purchase less snacks overall then their male counterparts; the snacks women do choose tend to be healthier, with 78% of their snacks purchases consisting of healthy snacks. While this makes men the greatest target segment for growth, women remain the most engaged consumers. As women tend to be more receptive to “health-related marketing efforts”, according to Mintel, there is opportunity in creating healthy snacks specifically formulated to meet women’s needs, such as calcium for bone health, antioxidants for healthy skin, and energy boosting vitamins.

Young snackers are avid snackers. While young snackers, classified as those being between the ages of 18-34, tend to eat more snacks then average, they also tend to eat less healthy snacks on average. According to Mintel, snackers in this age group are “less likely to make an intentional effort to eat healthfully”. However this segment is poised to grow, with 23% of snackers in this segment saying they plan to purchase more snacks in the upcoming year. To cater to these consumers, snack companies should focus on product attributes other then health such as energy boosting attributes that would appeal to this fast-paced segment.

Sell to your elders. Another growing segment are the more distinguished consumers, those who are 55+. According to Mintel, this age group represents the fastest growing and largest population segment, with the 55-64 age group expected to grow 31% and the 65-74 group expected to grow by 48% by 2016. Healthy snacks with “low in” qualities, such as snacks that are low in sugar and cholesterol, and are formulated with ingredients like glucosamine, calcium and vitamin E that promote joint, bone, and heart health, will greatly appeal to this group as they look to maintain their active lifestyles.

Family feud: healthy vs. tasty. As mentioned in earlier posts, while children are avid snackers, they are also some of the pickiest. According to Mintel, the percentage of healthy snacks consumed in a household with kids is lower then households without – 75.3% compared to 79.2%. However, the current focus on childhood obesity has encouraged parents to choose healthier options for their tots. According to a Fleishman-Hillard and survey, 78% of mothers say they are reading more food labels to look for ingredients they want to avoid, such as high fructose corn syrup, high-levels of sugar, artificial dyes and gluten. The challenge for snack companies is to create healthy snacks that come in kid-friendly portions and combine kid-friendly flavors with parent-friendly nutrition. Portability is another important aspect when developing snacks for this segment as the majority of snacks are consumed on the go.

In addition to the factors listed by Mintel, there are several taste and flavor trends that will be hot in 2013. According to Datamonitor’s 2013 consumer trend watch, high impact flavors, such as balsamic vinegar and caramelized onion, will be extremely popular when it comes to chips and dips. For bakery snacks, different textures will make the consumption experience more interesting while sugar becoming more acceptable. According to a recent IFIC survey, 61% of consumers believe that sugar does not need to be eliminated from their diet in order to loose weight. This shows that many consumers are willing to accept small amounts of sugar in their snacks. Protein also remains an important factor for snacks, with consumers becoming more focused in the protein contribution of yogurt in a variety of snacks, such as yogurt covered granola bars and dairy-based chips.

All-in-all, there are a lot of things that snack companies should be aware of when formulating snacks this upcoming year, from custom formulations and marketing campaigns to unique flavors and ingredients to reach their target markets. I don’t know about you, but yogurt covered granola bars and caramelized onion flavored chips sound delicious to me!

The Obesity Epidemic and Snacking: Aligning Intentions with Actions

As a company that manufacture’s vitamin and mineral premixes, the health of the average American is foremost on our minds. What are the vitamins and minerals that American’s need the most? Are there deficiencies we should be aware of? In short, are we producing the right, high quality products that Americans depend upon day in and day out?

As a country, it is hard to ignore the health epidemic that is slowly but surely consuming our nation: obesity. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) program, the prevalence of obesity has gone from 23% in 1988 to 68% of the population being categorized as overweight or obese in 2008. That comes out to a staggering 45% increase in just twenty years (Check out the CDC graphic here).

What makes the epidemic so deadly, according to Mintel, is that being overweight has become the new norm. While the NHANES study found that 68% of the American population was overweight and obese, a survey conducted by Mintel around that same time found that 52% described themselves as normal weight, with only 44% describing themselves as overweight. A complementary study conducted by the Columbia University Medical Center had similar findings, according to an article in USA Today. In the study, 66% of mothers were found to be overweight or obese, however, only 18% of obese women and 57.5% of overweight women were able to accurately estimate their weight when looking at figure silhouettes.

And unfortunately it is not just adults. According to the NHANES study, 17% of children between the ages of 2-19 are obese, and according to the USA Today article, 47.5% of moms of overweight or obese children “thought their kids were at a healthy weight”. This is a very serious issue, because according to the New England Journal of Medicine, being obese at a young age can result in “life-threatening consequences in the future”.

The reason I bring this up is not to be a Debbie Downer, but to demonstrate a point. Although it is a proven fact that more people are overweight and obese today then they were in the past, if they do not recognize that they are overweight, and that their current diet is unhealthy, they will not feel the need to make changes. The challenge for food marketers is to align consumer intentions with actions. According to Mintel, one of the greatest opportunities in the industry is to develop snacks that foster alignment between wanting to be healthy and eating healthy, and to communicate the health benefits of their snacks. However in doing so, the health claims must be common sense associative (ex. Calcium in milk) and the snacks must actually taste good. Lets be honest, no one is going to give up their low-fat baked potato chips for something that tastes like cardboard.

The key to creating alignment between consumer perceptions and purchasing habits is information. Educating the population about basic nutrition and healthy eating habits will not only help to improve the health of the general population overall, but will help to nurture demand for healthy snacks as well, spurring innovation and sales in that market. Already we have seen some headway made. In response to childhood obesity statistics, media, government and medical communities have begun to focus on healthy snack innovation targeting kids.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Food Trade Commission (FTC) found that foods being marketed to children in 2011 contained less sugar and more whole grains then they had in 2006. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowtiz was quoted saying, “ The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids, especially among companies participating in industry self-regulatory efforts. But there is still room for improvement”. While parents are responsible for the end purchasing decision, marketing is still a powerful tool when it comes to influencing children’s’ perceptions and creating habits. By educating children on the importance of a healthy diet and how tasty healthy foods are, food companies can hopefully expand the current dialogue to help inspire healthy habits in their young target audience.

How Snacks Can Help or Hurt Your New Year’s Resolution

As we approach the New Year, many of us are thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. For many, this includes losing weight and developing healthier habits. In fact, if this year is anything like last year, according to a Wall Street Journal article, 42% of people list losing weight as one of their top resolutions. Unfortunately, losing weight also ranked as one of the top “unachieved resolutions” in the same study.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey group, the type of snack you eat can greatly affect the success of your diet. The study found that although the number of snacks consumed by the average person per day has doubled in the past 30 years, the number of snacks consumed in a day did not differ significantly by weight across the surveyed population, suggesting that the type of snack heavily determines the success of a diet.

In 2011 Mintel conducted their own study, which found that the average person consumes 2.6 snacks a day, 78% of which were considered healthy. While the study had respondents self classify “healthy snack” (and as discussed in the last post that the definition of “healthy” is highly contextual and subjective), it does show that the importance of healthy snacking is getting through to consumers and many engage in strategic snacking to try and manage their weight. In their study, Mintel found that healthy snacking tendencies varied by age and gender. While women were overall more likely to report eating healthy snacks, healthy snacking was found to be lower among 18-34 year olds and families with young children.

Mintel found that families with small children tend to eat more snacks then average, roughly 2.7 snacks per day since children tend to have faster metabolism then adults. For families, the biggest hurdle to healthy snacking is finding a snack that is not only nutritious, comes in kid-friendly portions and is portable, but most importantly is something kids actually like/want to eat. As mentioned in the last post, many families with children will sacrifice the “health acceptance level” of a snack and settle for a marginally healthy snack, such as a whole-wheat cracker, in order to gain taste and portability.

Consumers who are between the ages of 18-34 were also found to consume the less healthy snacks, consuming 6% less healthy snacks then average consumer. According to Mintel, this is due in part to the cultural trend of “on the go snacking”, where quick snacks take the place of meals. This is especially troublesome for those wishing to lose weight, as skipping meals have been shown to slow metabolism and lead to binge snacking. Mintel found that higher snacking frequency is associated with higher total calorie intake, about 1.5 times as many calories as adults who do not snack.

So while healthy snaking can help you achieve your weight management goals, unhealthy snacking can spell the death of your diet. According to Alexander Chernev, an associated professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and author of the New Year resolution study, “When making our resolutions, we think ‘big picture’ and focus on the long-term. Then life takes over. When given the choice between the immediate gratification of indulging now and the future gratification of losing weight, people tend to by myopic and favor the short term”. Since on-the-go snacking trend remains strong, it is up to food companies to create products that not only fit into consumer’s busy lifestyles, but also are nutritious.

While the majority of snackers consume healthy snacks, consumers also desire an indulgent snack during the day. Mintel suggests that food companies create healthy snacks that include indulgent flavors, such a chocolate, so that consumers can treat themselves in a way that does not ruin their diet. In addition, food companies should look into creating more filling, meal-replacement options that are easy to grab-and-go that will help consumers feel full longer. This will help consumers resist the urge to binge snack, and hopefully enable them to attain their goals for the New Year.

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.

It’s a man thing…

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say, a lack of one. Although healthy snacking among women has risen in the past year, men between the ages of 18-34 persist in unhealthy snacking. Why? According to Mintel, it is because healthy snacks are just not “manly enough”, which is why men in that age group have been given the distinction of being “the greatest opportunity for industry players” by Mintel.

In Mintel’s 2011 Healthy Snacking Consumer study, men aged 18-34 were found to be eating more snacks than they did the previous year, and yet were less likely to make an effort to snack on foods that were healthy. Health benefits alone don’t seem to do it for men. According to Mintel, “a snack’s health position needs to be of less consequence than taste, image and trendiness in order for it to have a more masculine slant”. For men more so then women, taste really does matter when it comes to creating a successful snack.

The most successful snacks to date come from creating a lower-calorie version of an original snack or using ingredients that men already identify as “tasty”.  Men don’t want to sacrifice taste, but offer a healthier alternative that still tastes great and men (or anyone for that matter) will go for it. This trend can be seen predominantly in Men Health’s Magazine features on “Eat This, Not That”.  In cases such as these, men will take the healthier route but only because they know they will not have to sacrifice their taste buds. One current example is Dr. Pepper Ten, a 10-calorie soft drink that not only promises not to sacrifice taste, but also has the distinction of being one of the few products that is marketed to men exclusively through their “It’s Not for Women” campaign.

Another way to appeal to men is to use healthy ingredients that many already enjoy. Peanuts are a great example, I mean who doesn’t love snacking on peanuts while enjoying an ice-cold beer? Plus, peanuts are an excellent source of protein. One of my favorite examples is Nature Valley’s new peanut, almond and dark chocolate protein bars.  Peanuts and chocolate is a tried and true combination, and protein has the functional benefit of keeping you fuller longer.

However, taste was found to be almost equally as important as a trendy image. One way to achieve this is through athlete endorsement, which has been successfully used by Gatorade for years. Mintel also suggests positioning the brand or product as an “extreme” that focuses on men’s “masculinity and ego”. This has been done successfully across a number of products and brands, including the pre mentioned Dr. Pepper Ten and Old Spice Body Wash. Humor, especially violent humor, is also a great way to appeal to men. The Snickers “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign is a great example for snacks packed with protein. By focusing on the humorous but debilitating effect of hunger, protein snacks can position themselves as a great tasting “fix” while their health benefits remain subconsciously in the background.

Healthy Snacks Are Boring Snacks

It is that time again, that hour right before lunch or midway through the afternoon, when you feel your stomach rumble. You get up, stretch, maybe grab another cup of coffee, but what you really want is something to eat, something quick to tide you over until your next meal. What you want is a snack.

If this sounds familiar you are not alone. Mintel reported in a recent survey that about two thirds of the population snack between meals. Of those Snackers, Mintel found that only 27% chow down on healthy foods. This is at direct odds with the National Research Center’s 2010 Consumer Report that stated that 90% of the population said they had a healthy diet. In their report, Mintel hypothesized that this discrepancy is due to the fact that the perception of what constitutes, as a healthy snack is highly subjective. Believe or not 9% of the population believes that cookies and potato chips count as healthy snacks. If only life was that simple.

For the rest of us, its not that we don’t know what a healthy snack is, it is that healthy snacking is just plain boring. Lets face it; the jelly donut from your favorite bakery is going to beat the bag of carrots you brought from home every time. If nothing else, the uptick in adult and childhood obesity shows that food companies need to change how they design and market healthy snacks from something we should eat to something that we want to eat.

While not selling snacks, Healthy Choice’s new ad campaign captures this idea perfectly. Last week the New York Times published an article that quoted Healthy Choice’s brand director, Jenn Freeman, explaining that they decided to focus on dieter’s pain because “consumers are telling us over and over again that they’re tired of dieting, tired of deprivation, tired of being irritable”.  It is the idea of deprivation that is key. Instead of feeling forced to eat something “healthy”, i.e. juice or drum sticks, people want to be able to have something that is as luxurious as a entire Chicken Margherita meal and have it be healthy too.

This idea of luxurious health applies to snacks as well. Consumers want to be able to snack on something that feels like a treat but is still healthy. That doesn’t mean you can go crazy marketing a line of healthy potato chips – the other 91% of us know better. However if you can find the right balance between healthy and decadence, then you will have found the sweet spot – literally.