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Organic, healthy foods go mainstream

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Natural and organic snacks are no longer on the periphery. The products have moved front and center as consumers look for healthier, more satiating options when they snack.

"Consumers, particularly millennials, are looking for higher-quality snacks and are renewing their interest in natural foods," said Shelley Balanko, an analyst at Hartman Group. Natural, she said, means fresh, less-processed foods with a recognized ingredient list. "Consumers want more from their snacks. They want nutritionally-dense foods that are satiating," she said.

Sales of natural and organic snacks are outpacing the industry average. "Overall in 2012, the snack industry grew 4.4% in dollar sales," said Sue Viamari, editor of IRI's Times and Trends report. "Organic food dollar sales increased 7.9%, and natural food sales were up 9%.

"Viamari said 22% of customers said they are looking to increase their consumption of natural and organic foods, and 26% said they are actively seeking natural and organic solutions. That percentage skewed even higher among millennials.

"Our studies show that millennials, who are struggling the most financially, are still looking for natural and organic solutions, which are often more expensive," she said. "That says something about how much they value natural and organic attributes."

Younger consumers also have global tastes and are willing to experiment. Balanko said consumers are open to such legume and alternative, grain-based snacks as baked chick pea and baked lentil chips or falafel chips, as well as such veggie-flavored snacks as kale chips and brussels sprout chips that pack a nutritional punch.

Since satiation is such a huge trend, nut snacks have grown in popularity, and more manufacturers are introducing nut clusters and bars. IRI recently named Kind bars as one of its Product Pacesetters.

Greek yogurt continues to be embraced by consumers as an anytime snack. Sales of natural/organic hand-held sandwiches and snacks are also up, representing another opportunity for retailers. "We're also seeing consumers turning to nontraditional categories for snacking, such as Starbucks bento-box snacks that include a hard-boiled egg, cheeses and fruits," Balanko said.

Retailers still should be grouping natural snacks in one section, according to Viamari. "Consumers definitely want to see the products in one section, since they are looking for retailers to help them make choices and make it easier for them to find what they are looking for," she said.

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