Finding healthier ways to snack

by Allison Sebolt
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As snack products such as chips are often viewed as an indulgence and may be seen as too high in sodium and fat, the amount of multigrain and baked snacks on the market has grown.

"Baked has a very powerful connotation for consumers," said Carlos Barroso, senior vice-president of global research and development for foods at Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc., which owns Frito-Lay.

Mr. Barroso said baked often has a good feel for consumers and reminds them of home-cooking. He said it might not be in the best interest to try to completely match the flavor of baked chips to regular chips as consumers looking for baked chips often desire a slightly different taste.

Mr. Barroso also said baked products don’t turn as fast as fried snacks. Mintel International, Chicago, agreed with this, and said market following for baked products is small. But Mintel said 60% of respondents to a survey agreed they are interested in healthier alternatives to salty snacks, but there aren’t many direct competitors, which may suggest opportunities for innovation and growth. Another avenue for growth is more healthful snacks for children as parents are trying to cut back on their children’s unhealthy snacking habits, Mintel said.

Mr. Barroso said the salty category accounts for $59 billion in sales at Frito-Lay with chips representing $21 billion and pretzels accounting for $2 billion. As such, Mintel said Frito-Lay has almost half of the salty snack market with the closest rival being Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., which has a 5% share. Mintel said Frito-Lay’s Fritos brand is the best-selling brand in the market.

Mintel said it expects the market for salty snacks to reach $20.5 billion by 2012 with much of the growth driven by price increases.

One of Frito-Lay’s most recent introductions is a Roasted Sweet Chili Multigrain variety from Sun Chips, which has 18 grams of whole grain per serving and 30% less fat than regular chips. Kraft recently introduced Great Plains Multigrain Toasted Chips from Wheat Thins, which has 60% less fat than other potato chips.

Michael Season’s, a brand of Natural Snacks, L.L.C., Addison, Ill., recently introduced baked multigrain chips in original, cheddar and honey chipotle flavors. Michael Season’s also has baked puffs, pops and curls and baked thin potato crisps.

Christine Brown, marketing manager for Natural Snacks, said functional benefits are a primary driver of the market right now. She also said digestive health is an important benefit to offer consumers, and to this end Michael Season’s products are wheat free and gluten free. She said the baked products have reduced fat, calories and no trans fat but are still crispy.

Ms. Brown said sweet and hot are the biggest flavor trends right now. As examples, she noted sweet onion and hot chipotle as marketable flavors.

For so long you had the basic flavors — lightly salted, cheddar and french onion," Ms. Brown said. "Especially the younger generation is looking for more of the hot and spicy … that generation is looking for a better taste, a different taste."

In terms of demographics, Ms. Brown said Natural Snacks’ focus primarily has been on the female shopper, but right now the company is targeting the health-conscious family as a whole, so the company is focusing on teaching children to eat healthy.

Ms. Brown said she has had many requests for unsalted snacks as people become more concerned about sodium. To this end, Michael Season’s has unsalted and lightly salted thin and crispy chips. In addition, Hain Celestial has Terra Unsalted Potato Chips, and Kettle Foods has several lightly salted varieties. Miss Vickie’s, a Frito-Lay brand, has sea salt and vinegar and simply sea salt kettle cooked potato chip varieties.

Other Frito-Lay brands have sea salt varieties, and the company even has a line called Pinch of Salt. The line features low-sodium versions of popular brands at 30% to 50% less sodium.

"While consumers request low-sodium versions of their favorite products, they aren’t willing to compromise on taste," said Jaya Kumar, chief marketing officer, Frito-Lay North America. "The Pinch of Salt line still gives consumers great-tasting snack chips they want, but with less sodium than their original counterparts."

Interestingly, natural and organic products as well as those with lower fat levels have not fared as well as regular products sold in measured, individual portion-controlled packs or regular products sold in regular packages, Mintel said.

According to Mintel, there were 914 new salty snack products introduced in the United States in 2008, which was down from 931 in 2007. Top claims included low/ no/reduced transfat, kosher and all-natural. Mintel said new product launches focus primarily on health and flavor, and launches aimed at children are decreasing as a result of concerns about childhood obesity.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 17, 2009, starting on Page 52. Click here to search that archive.

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