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Mindful snacking: Consumers are seeking out flavorful and nutritional options

Snack producers expand their offerings with healthier products and staples.
Quest bar

Who among us didn’t snack more than usual in the early days of the pandemic? Hunkered down with responsibilities caring for family while working from home, many Americans found that snacking was convenient, and it offered solace.  

As the pandemic fades in the rearview mirror and face-to-face meetings return, many folks want to trim their waistlines and improve their health.   

According to FMCG Gurus, from April to July, there was a month-on-month increase in the proportion of consumers who said they are worried about their waistlines (21%-32%-37%). In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are looking to improve their health, with 79% saying that they are making plans to eat and drink healthier. 

That’s why companies seeking to gain traction in this market have been focusing on “better for you” snacking options. While numbers are hard to come by for the healthy snack category, market research firm IRI pegged the snack bars/granola bars category at around $5.7 billion, snack nuts/seeds/corn nuts at $4.8 billion and ready-to-eat popcorn at $1.5 billion, between total U.S. multi-outlet for the 52 weeks ending Oct. 3, 2021.  

[Read more: Candy, snacks evolve for consumers making ingredient-focused choices]

Optimal Protein
Products that are high in protein and low in sugar and net carbs are among the strategies that companies are betting on.   

Take the case of Quest Nutrition, based in El Segundo, Calif. 

“Whatever the format, bars, cookies or confections, the key is to look at the nutrition panel and see if it’s checking the boxes of optimal protein while being lower in sugar and net carbs,” said Linda Zink, Quest Nutrition’s chief marketing officer.

Adkins Protein Cookies

To meet those goals, Quest Nutrition launched gluten-free Quest Dipped Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Protein Bars, with 1 g of sugar, 3 g of net carbs and 17 g of protein, and Quest Frosted Cookies, which have less than 1 g of sugar, 1 g of net carbs and 5 g of protein.

Scott Parker, chief marketing officer of Denver-based Atkins Brand, agreed that more consumers are continuously learning about the health-and-wellness benefits of limiting carbs and sugar. “We’re continuing to focus on awareness of the Atkins lifestyle and our variety of products, including our on-the-go snacks, as well as indulgent options that fit into our consumers’ lifestyle without compromising their nutritional or health goals,” he said.

[Read more: CVS Pharmacy expands selection of frozen foods, better-for-you snacks]

Atkins recently debuted a new Chocolate Crème Wafer Crisps snack bar and Atkins Protein Cookies, with 10 g of protein and 3 g of net carbs, in chocolate chip, peanut butter and double chocolate chip. 

Offering keto-friendly products is yet another strategy that snack manufacturers are employing.

Shrewd Food, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., is a case in point. Janet Levi, company spokesperson, said Shrewd Food has tied into this trend with its dark chocolate Keto Dippers, which contain 8 g of protein, and most of its savory Protein Puffs, which contain 13 g of protein.

No Sugar cans

No Sugar Company, based in Ontario, Canada, also is focusing on the keto trend.

CEO Brad Woodgate said that the company’s first product was a no sugar keto bar that paved the way for more innovation, including a no sugar Kids Bars, No Sugar Ice Cream Kups and Joyburst Energy, a no sugar energy drink.

Offering snacks that contain essential nutrients is another way that manufacturers are responding to consumers.

[Read more: Quest Nutrition’s snack bars pack a crunchy bite]

Following this path is POPtritional, based in Orlando, Fla., which unveiled Light White Cheddar Popcorn, which contains protein, calcium, and vitamins C, B12 and D. Its Kettle Corn includes protein, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

“Gone are the days where choosing a healthy option means eating something bland,” said POPtritional founder Courtney Adeleye. “Instead, there is an important balance that we must find between creating a snack that has flavor and nutritional value.” 

New York-based Sakara Life also is taking healthy snacks to new heights with Superseed + Nuts Blend Collection, which contains plant protein. It can be used as a meal or sprinkled on meals.

Clio Snacks

Mark Chu, director of marketing at Austin, Texas-based SkinnyPop, said consumers want products that offer “better for you” claims, but they also want “the indulgence of a treat. With SkinnyPop, consumers know they can enjoy a salty snack, but also not feel guilty if they eat the whole bag.” 

Flavor Profiles
Companies also are rolling out products with tempting flavors. 

For example, Shrewd Food recently debuted Protein Puffs in aged white cheddar, totally taco, Buffalo ranch, sweet thai chili, avocado toast and caramel apple pie.

Loves Park, Ill.-based TH Foods, makers of Crunchmaster Bistro Crisps, released vegan cheddar, nacho and margherita pizza flavors. What’s more, the crisps have zero g of trans fat and zero mg of cholesterol, and the company is replacing safflower oil with olive oil in most of its crackers.

[Read more: Clio Snacks crafts yogurt bars with less sugar]

Manufacturers are also responding to consumers who crave seasonal flavors.      

For instance, Quest offers limited-edition Quest Pumpkin Pie and Peppermint Bark Protein Bars. 

Snacks containing Greek yogurt also are gaining in popularity.

Piscataway, N.J.-based Clio Snacks makes Granola & Yogurt Parfait Bars, Greek Yogurt Bars and Less Sugar Yogurt Bars. 

Aside from enticing flavors and healthier ingredients, manufacturers are offering portable snacks.

Quest’s Zink said that at the beginning of the pandemic, the nutritional bar category as a whole decreased. “In most recent months, as more people’s lifestyles have become more active, we saw an uptick in our protein bar sales,” she said.

Shrewd Food Protein Puffs

Carlsbad, Calif.-based Designer Wellness also is focusing on portability with Designer Smoothie, a shelf stable and portable protein fruit smoothie in a single-serve pouch.  

[Read more: Atkins extends its partnership with actor Rob Lowe]

Paul Pruett, CEO of Designer Wellness, said he expects customers to carry the product in a gym bag, lunch box or purse, or place it in an office drawer. 

Snack companies also are revamping their packaging to be more eco-friendly.   

No Sugar Company reduced its packaging from 67% to 70%. “That’s a very good move from a climate perspective and for retailers to carry more offerings,” Woodgate said.

Designer Wellness also is on a sustainability path with 100% BPA-free packaging. “It’s safer for our consumers,” Pruett said. 

Finally, companies also are helping consumers make positive lifestyle changes.   

This trend is evident in Atkins’ five-week #AtkinsSmallWins campaign that celebrates attainable goals that can help people improve health and wellness.

What advice can suppliers share with retailers?

“They need to be savvy in terms of whether a keto product meets the claims the companies are trying to make,” Woodgate said.

Levi recommended that retailers feature specialty items prominently in a specialty area where similar products are featured. 

Finally, Clio Snacks CEO John McGuckin advised, “Consumers shopping for nourishment continue to migrate their attention to the perimeter of the store where they perceive greater health benefits in fresh products.”

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