Wrapping the snack up to go

by Allison Sebolt
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The amount of innovation in the market for snack wraps may be seen in a potential new product McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., is testing — the Snack Wrap Mac. It’s just like a Big Mac, but wrapped in a tortilla instead of a bun.

"With the snack wrap line having been so well received, there was a natural opportunity to extend that with this test," said Danya Proud, spokesperson for McDonald’s USA.

Ms. Proud said this is a small test, and no final decisions have been made as to whether the company will make the product available nationally. But the concept of snack wraps has not only caught on with consumers — it seems it’s here to stay.

She said the way customers use restaurants and their evolving eating occasions over the past several years have contributed to the expansion of the concept.

"With more customers on the go — certainly more people commuting these days, more people multi-tasking — the snacking category overall really has continued," Ms. Proud said. "We believe McDonald’s has been able to provide customers with portable easy-to-eat, on-the-go options that can either be used as snacks, such as snack wraps, or can be combined together to make meals."

Ms. Proud said the breakfast, lunch and dinner categories continue to grow at McDonald’s, but the between meals snacking category is growing as well.

"Our entire (snack wrap) line continues to be extremely popular," Ms. Proud said.

McDonald’s offers both grilled and crispy snack wraps, and Ms. Proud said this is in an effort to provide consumers with choices for their diets. The Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap is one of the offerings.

"Making all items — whether it be snack wraps or the other items we make available on our menu — portable, convenient, offered at good value, easy-to-eat, on-the-go, will all be criteria we will certainly continue to evaluate as we look at developing our menu," Ms. Proud said.

Consumers want options for their snacking occasions, and wraps fit into this.

"People are snacking all the time now … there has been a change in attitude about snacking," said Kara Nielsen, a trendologist with the Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco.

Ms. Nielsen said consumers are catching onto the trend of eating smaller meals throughout the day for balanced energy. In addition, the idea of needing to have protein regularly to keep energy and blood sugars steady has been popular, and these are all factors increasing the desire for filling snacking options.

Ms. Nielsen said people are eating meals at all times of the day and something like snack wraps may work across day parts.

The versatility of a petite wrap is a benefit consumers may relate to, and there are options of what may be put in them to appeal to different demographics.

"Restaurant operators can look at tailoring a snack wrap to different groups if they wanted to, and it also can be tailored to different restaurant themes," Ms. Nielsen said.

McDonald’s is certainly not the only fast-food chain cashing in on the trend. Wendy’s has a Spicy Chicken Go Wrap, a Homestyle Chicken Go Wrap and a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap. Burger King also offers its Spicy Chicken BK Wrapper with the intent of afternoon snacking.

Value along with convenience is important, and many restaurants, recognizing the already lower price point of wraps due to their smaller portion size and positioning as a snack, are making snack wraps part of reduced-priced menus. For example, Sonic has the Jr. Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap on its value menu.

Other wraps at food service include Jack in the Box’s Sirloin Steak Pita Snack, Chick-Fil-A’s Spicy Chicken Cool Wrap and KFC’s Oven Roasted Twister.

Gilroy Foods & Flavors, a ConAgra brand, noted snack wraps as a trend in its most recent Food & FlavorCast report, and also noted various retail wraps such as Tyson Gourmet Wraps, Hot Pockets and South Beach Living Refrigerated Wrap Kits as products driving the trend in the grocery store.

Gilroy Foods & Flavors said the trend isn’t new as various cultures have been wrapping foods in flatbreads for centuries. Flatbreads now have adapted to today’s culture, and even Dunkin’ Donuts has a line of oven-toasted flatbread sandwiches.

Ms. Nielsen said snack wraps appeal well to Generation Y, ages 18 to 29, because they were raised in a multi-ethnic world and have been eating quesadillas and items with tortillas all their lives, so wraps would be very familiar to them and have some comfort food connotations.

In the future, she said there is potential for consumers to get bored with wraps, but this may be overcome.

"If operators continue to stay innovative and if they change the flavors often enough either through a limited-time-offer or seasonal variations, then they can keep the excitement up," Ms. Nielsen said.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 31, 2009, starting on Page 53. Click here to search that archive.

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