Food Entrepreneur KANSAS CITY  — Four shifts in consumer behavior are driving snack trends, including health, global flavors, sustainability and intentional indulgences, said Scott Dicker, market insights director of SPINS at the Food Entrepreneur Experience webinar on April 24.

Dicker provided an overview of the functional snack market and what trends are driving it.

The main categories influencing snacking trends include protein, sugar reduction, sustainability, mushrooms, caffeine and evolving flavors.

Protein reigns supreme

Companies including General Mills, Kodiak Cakes and Wilde Brands are among some of the brands tapping into the protein sector.

Added protein options are seen in most aisles at the grocery store, Dicker said.

“Things like protein bars, as well as chips, puffs, everything you can think of,” he said.

Consumers are looking to re-engage with some snack categories with protein being a main driver.

“It’s one macro nutrient that continues to have a health halo,” Dicker said. “Consumers are drawn to protein claims. You take a product that once was considered kind of a ‘junk’ food, you add protein to it, and it becomes kind of a health food.”

Sugar reduction

Consumers are searching for ways to reduce sugar while still wanting to intentionally indulge in sweet snacks.

“Sugar continues to be the most vilified ingredient alongside some of the artificial ingredients,” Dicker said. “People want to revisit some of the nostalgic products and flavors and, in some cases, they want some of the healthier versions of it.”

Dates are an option in sugar reduction.

Must Love, formerly a frozen dessert brand that featured dates as a natural sweetener, turned its sights to graham crackers also sweetened with dates.

Date Better Snacks also uses dates as a primary ingredient in its nut butter stuffed dates and organic chocolate products.

“Whether it’s a standalone snack or used as a sweetener we’re seeing a lot of products innovating in this arena,” Dicker said. “We see this in beverages as well. Not dates specifically but using fruit or fruit juice as a sweetener to have sugar without ‘added’ sugar and to not use an alternative sweetener.”


Multiple brands are tackling sustainability issues through upcycled food products.

Whether the product is in the form of vegetable chips or plant-based jerky, brands are seeking sustainable options for a healthier planet and consumers longer term.

“When it comes to sustainability, upcycled is one that I’m really looking at,” Dicker said. “We’ve seen it grow tremendously from $400,000 to $20 million in the past couple of years. This is certified upcycled. This is a great way of reducing food waste.”

Super Mushrooms

Mushrooms are blurring lines at retail. The ingredient is in the supplement aisle and is making its way to functional beverages and food.

“Two of the ingredients that are doing really well are super mushrooms,” Dicker said. “Things like lion’s mane we’re seeing them found in things like bars, cookies, even trail mix with dried fruit. We’re seeing that play a big role as that continues the health halo.”

While mushrooms are gaining traction, Dicker said there still needs to be ongoing education.

“I don’t think consumers are too in tune to specific mushrooms yet, but they are familiar with some of these super mushrooms and benefits,” he said.

As mushrooms become more mainstream, in recent years brands have been incorporating the ingredient in products.

MOSH and Balanced Tiger use lion’s mane in forms of plant-based protein bars, Mindright also features lion’s mane in its nootropic-infused popped chips while Monterey Mushrooms offers mushroom powders for use in food and supplement manufacturers.

Evolving flavors trends

Consumers are adding new flavors to everyday foods with options like jalapeño and dill pickle.

Jalapeño is seen in a variety of products from Sister Schubert’s frozen baked cornbread bites, Kraft Heinz’s jalapeño ketchup, and Popcornoplis jalapeño lime popcorn.

Dill pickle also is lighting up the taste buds of consumers.

Good Foods launched a dill pickle chip dip and Fresh Cravings features a dill pickle hummus.

“A lot of times some of these not as sweet flavors seem to be doing really well,” Dicker said. 

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