What's ahead for sweets and snacks?

by Monica Watrous
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Eating snacks
How consumers define a snack continues to blur.
 

CHICAGO — Nearly everybody snacks, but how consumers define a snack continues to blur. This presents challenges and opportunities for manufacturers, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel.

Lynn Dornblaser, Mintel
Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insights at Mintel

“Snacking is a behavior, not a category,” Ms. Dornblaser said during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 23-25 in Chicago. “A snack truly can be anything. Competition can come from just about anywhere.”

As snacks increasingly replace meals in consumers’ diets and daily routines, products that cross category lines are proliferating across the marketplace.

“U.S. snackers overwhelmingly feel anything can be a snack,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “They say that what defines a snack is not the category but the level of convenience and how it’s used.”

Single-serve ice cream cups, protein shakes, aerosol cheese
Some products positioned as snacks may be unexpected, such as single-serve ice cream cups, protein shakes and aerosol cheese.
 

Therefore, some products positioned as snacks may be a bit unexpected, she added, citing as examples protein shakes, single-serve ice cream cups and aerosol cheese.

“We’re seeing some shifts in size, both in terms of packaging and the physical size of the product,” she said. “Even dips turn up in snack-size portions.”

She added, “What we hardly see at all anymore are individual packs of products labeled as ‘100-calorie packs…’ but the concept of single-serve portions is still very much alive.”

Another opportunity for growth in candy and snacks lies in the larger industry trend of clean and simple formulations. Consumer demand for products with recognizable ingredients is driven by skepticism and “factory fear,” Ms. Dornblaser said.

100 Calorie packs of Emerald Nuts
Individual packs of products labeled as 100-calorie packs are on the decline.
 

“Seventy-one per cent of consumers believe there are probably more harmful or excess ingredients in foods that manufacturers aren’t telling us,” she said. “It all boils down to, ‘There are ingredients in there that I don’t understand, therefore you’re trying to pull the wool over my eyes somehow… I’m going to go buy something from a little company.’

“Even though that little company might be owned by General Mills or Unilever or Kraft.”

Because there is no standard or clear definition of “simple” and “clean label,” companies use a combination of hard and soft claims to convey a natural positioning, Ms. Dornblaser said. Hard claims may include “organic,” “no additives or preservatives,” or “G.M.O.-free,” while soft claims may point to a small number of ingredients or the “wholesomeness” of ingredients, she said.

“Companies use a variety of tactics to talk about what clean and simple is all about,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “There is almost always a focus on health and wellness in some form and on good nutrition.”

Frito-Lay’s Simply Cheetos Puffs, Nestle Skinny Cow Divines Sweetly Seductive Raspberry Filled Chocolates and Smash Mallow snackable marshmallows
Snacks made with "simple" or "clean label" ingredients are growing in popularity.
 

Examples include Frito-Lay’s Simply Cheetos Puffs with “no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives,” Nestle Skinny Cow Divines Sweetly Seductive Raspberry Filled Chocolates “made with simple ingredients,” and Smash Mallow snackable marshmallows “made from only the very best simple ingredients.”

Products positioned as permissible indulgences represent another key to unlocking growth in sweets and snacks, she said.

“We’ve seen the idea of small treats on the market for a very long time … all the way down to individual chocolate candies, for example, but we see more of a focus on them today,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “Small indulgences allow consumers to experiment in a safe way, so you can try something you’ve never tried before … but it’s not a half-gallon of ice cream or a big bar of chocolate. It’s just a little bit, so if you don’t like it you haven’t invested all that much.”

Consumers crave indulgence, but they also seek healthful benefits in snacks, a trend that crosses demographics, Ms. Dornblaser said. Still, she added, “taste trumps everything.”

Russell Stover Coconut Minis and Sargento Balanced Breaks
Small treats, such as Russell Stover Coconut Minis, and sweet and salty mixes, including Sargento Balanced Breaks, deliver the balance of indulgence and health.
 

“Consumers look for something that’s going to taste good and something that’s priced right,” she said.

Small treats, such as Russell Stover Coconut Minis, and sweet and salty mixes, including Sargento Balanced Breaks, deliver the coveted balance of indulgence and health, Ms. Dornblaser said.

“It’s important to keep in mind that consumers are trying to be mindful in what it is they eat,” she said. “They want to do the right thing, but they’re really struggling. That’s where this idea of permissibility and smaller portions and a small indulgence can help consumers do the right thing while still having a bit of a treat.”

Portability is also an important attribute in snacks.

Sabra Hummus To Go
Portability is an important attribute in snacks.
 

“Consumers want to grab and go,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “Single-serve grab-and-go is really for the most part what snacking is all about.”

Finally, she said, flexibility is key to conquering the competitive snacking landscape.

“Consumers are very flexible about what constitutes a snack,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “And that gives you the opportunity and the challenge to play with flexibility and think outside the box.”  
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