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New snacking ideas present growing opportunities


It may be time for manufacturers and retailers to redefine snacks, as consumers have been steadily reshaping the definition of what is and isn’t a snack. “Consumers are snacking in new ways,” said Kara Nielsen, a trendologist at the Center of Culinary Development and an author of a recent study on snacks for Packaged Facts. “Consumers are eating more snacks as mini-meals, and all those occasions can’t be satisfied with a bag of chips.”

From a consumer standpoint, anything can be a snack, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG Trend Insight for Mintel Research Consultancy. “It could be a cookie, it could be a frozen meal, or a piece of gum or an enhanced beverage.” One thing is clear, Dornblaser said, consumers are making healthier snack choices.

A recent Times & Trends “New Product Pacesetters” report from Information Resources Inc. stated that “better-for-you is not going away any time soon,” and predicted the trend toward healthier products is “expected to gain steam, regardless of economic conditions.” Snack choices often are driven by kids, and the next generation is accustomed to new flavors and healthier choices.

The snack nut category has blossomed as manufacturers have added restaurant-quality flavor profiles with healthy ingredients and even health claims. Blue Diamond’s Bold almond line, for example, boasts such flavors as Lime ’n Chili, Jalapeno Smokehouse and Wasabi & Soy Sauce.

Snackers are looking for healthier crunchy options as well. Consumers, particularly younger shoppers, are accepting new flavors and ingredients. “Seaweed snacks are emerging as a big segment,” Nielsen said. “They are easy to eat, salty, crunchy and healthier than traditional salty snacks, and they are very popular with kids.” It’s not a leap for kids who have grown up eating sushi to reach for rice crackers wrapped with seaweed or algae.

Consumers also are looking for alternatives to traditional potato chips. Chips made from such roots as cassava root and vegetables bring something new to the market.

Manufacturers are introducing crispy vegetables, and legumes also are gaining favor with consumers looking for something new to snack on. “Edamame and hummus are popular with kids,” Nielsen said. “Other interesting new products are Trader Joe’s dehydrated green beans with sea salt, falafel chips from Famous Brands and Boulder Canyon Natural Food’s Rice & Adzuki Bean Natural Salt Artisan Snack chips.”

Even traditional snack manufacturers are finding ways to promote their healthier-for-you products to consumers. “It’s hard for salty snack manufacturers to think outside the box, but Frito-Lay has done a good job with Sun Chips, promoting ingredients and environmental responsibility,” Dornblaser said.

Dornblaser said drug store retailers are in a perfect spot to offer their customers more in the way of snack options, but they face challenges. “The drug channel gets a lot of snack traffic, so there’s lots of opportunity. But there’s limited space, so every choice has to be a good one,” she said.

Using endcaps to pull snack possibilities from other parts of the store could be a good solution. “They might pull energy bars, enhanced water, shelf-stable meals and salty snacks together on an endcap as a snack center,” Dornblaser said.

Including shelf-stable meals or more substantial snacks could satisfy those snacking opportunities that double as a mini-meal. Some drug chains, such as CVS, already are dabbling in prepared foods, such as wrapped sandwiches. Nielsen said the Japanese convenience chain Famima provides a good model for convenient fresh options. “Famima’s prepared food cases blow wrapped sandwiches away,” she said. “If drug stores really want to get into fresh convenience foods, Famima is an excellent model.”

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