Quinoa, kale, chia seeds, chickpeas, seaweed and other ingredients perceived as healthy were featured in many new products on display at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in May.


KANSAS CITY — Perceptions of snacking have shifted from a behavior to be avoided to a means of sensible eating. Better-for-you snack foods, such as fruit, nutrition bars and Greek yogurt, are on the rise and projected to grow 5% by 2018, according to The NPD Group, Chicago. Meanwhile, sweet and savory snack foods, including chips, pretzels and candy bars, are expected to be flat or decline in the next five years.

“People are not just thinking of snacking occasions as that time when we get extraneous calories anymore,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for The NPD Group. “In fact, 30 years ago we asked a question that said ‘I try to avoid snacking,’ and about 70% of people used to agree with that. Now more people disagree with that statement. People now think of snacking as a way to get extra ingredients into their bodies or as a way to eat more sensibly throughout the day.”

Driving growth in better-for-you snack foods are Generation X, ages 38-48, millennials, ages 24-37, and Generation Z, ages 0-23, who have positive attitudes about snacking, a desire to eat more healthfully and a need for convenience.

A top trend identified at the Sweets & Snacks Expo this year suggests consumers may be seeking treats with nutritional benefits. Quinoa, kale, chia seeds, chickpeas, seaweed and other ingredients perceived as healthy were featured in many new products on display at the show, held May 20-22 in Chicago. Ancient grains, including millet, quinoa and chia, experienced a 69% compound annual growth rate in savory snack launches from 2009-13, according to Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands.

Forty-five per cent of consumers seek snacks that offer benefits beyond basic nutrition, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research company, and product developers are responding with such items as snack chips flecked with flax seed, popcorn cooked in coconut oil, and chocolate studded with quinoa. Several other companies at the show featured chips made of coconut, seaweed, plantains and kale, positioned as better-for-you alternatives to conventional crunchy snacks.

Organic, gluten-free and non-G.M.O. products remain niches in the multibillion dollar category but are growing, the National Confectioners Association said.

Health-conscious consumers continue to pay close attention to claims on packages, with healthier categories such as nutritional snacks, trail mixes and carob/yogurt-coated snacks showing exceptional growth. Overall, 62% of better-for-you snack categories grew in volume sales, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, I.R.I. executive and general manager.

Additionally, 68% of consumers said they look for snacks that are fun to eat. Some of this segment’s leaders include chocolate-covered salty snacks, up 15%, dried meat snacks, up 5%, and frozen handheld non-breakfast entrees, which rose 3%, according to I.R.I. data.

Lines blurring

Lines are blurring between meals and snacks as more consumers pack their plates with such items as yogurt and fruit, The NPD Group said. Traditional snack foods consumed at main meals is expected to grow approximately 5% to 86.4 billion eating occasions in 2018.

“What seems to be happening is consumers are using these convenience types of foods to maybe round out their meals a little more,” Mr. Seifer said. “It’s more of those snack foods that can flexibly go between being a snack food and maybe something that can go alongside a main meal. Examples would be refrigerated yogurt and fresh fruit. For each of those, about half the time they are eaten at a main meal and half the time eaten at snack time. It’s flexible in its usage, and that’s what’s allowing this growth to happen.”

The Kellogg Co. is repositioning some of its cereal brands as on-the-go snacks in single-serve packs.


Product developers should understand the occasions when people snack, said Barbara Katz, president of HealthFocus International, during a March session at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 2014 conference in Chicago.

For a small meal occasion, people may seek satiety in a snack, be it yogurt, a protein shake or a sandwich, Ms. Katz said. For a better-for-you occasion, people may want a snack to fill a need, such as energy before an exercise workout, she said. Protein and fiber may work well in a product. Snack examples include nuts, dried fruit or a nutrition bar. For an indulgent occasion, snack examples are ice cream, baked foods or a salty snack.

Responding to the trend in on-the-go consumption, the Kellogg Co. announced this year plans to reposition some of its popular cereal brands as on-the-go snacks in single-serving portable packages. Kellogg’s On the Go Fun cereal pouches include Froot Loops, Krave Chocolate, Apple Jacks and Corn Pops.

Protein has gained a prominent role in new snack launches.

Protein playing part

Protein-rich snacks are gaining prominence, seen in a spate of jerky products, nut butters, pumpkin seeds and chickpea snacks.

Snack launches featuring peanuts, almonds or walnuts are growing in number, too. Snacks with protein from soy, wheat, vegetables or casein have become more popular in the United States, Innova said. Bison and salmon even have appeared in protein bars.

Meat-based snacks have been all the rage lately, with Hormel Foods, Kraft Foods and Hillshire Brands all developing new offerings during the past year. Launched in February, Oscar Mayer’s P3 Portable Protein snack packs contain a combination of Oscar Mayer Selects meat, Kraft Natural cheese and Planters nuts in four varieties and are positioned as a high-protein snack for active, on-the-go consumers.

More high-protein nutrition bars also are hitting the market. Made with nuts or fortified with vegetable protein, products such as Strong & Kind bars, with 10 grams per serving, and Cascadian Farms Protein bars, with 9 grams, provide more protein than a traditional granola bar.

Plant-based proteins continue to gain traction across the snack aisle. Snack makers are formulating chips and similar products with vegetables and legumes. Innova tracked a 48% increase in product launch activity for savory biscuits and crackers with vegetable and legume inclusions between 2012 and 2013. Popchips recently added a line of snack chips created with a blend of nine vegetables, including kale, spinach, tomato, pumpkin, potato, beet, bell pepper, navy bean and chickpea.

Campbell Soup Co. keyed into consumer demand for protein-rich snacks this year with the launch of V8 protein shakes and bars that extend the brand into the $4.6 billion category of adult on-the-go nutrition. The products include such ingredients as carrot and sweet potato and use honey as a sweetener. In chocolate, vanilla and chocolate raspberry flavors, the protein shakes combine dairy, soy, pea protein, brown rice and quinoa.

The category of ready-to-eat popcorn has been growing at a double-digit rate for several years.

Popcorn popping up

Another top trend in the snack category this year is popcorn, offering gluten-free and whole grain benefits as well as innovative new flavors. The category of ready-to-eat popcorn has been growing at a double-digit rate over several years, said Brian Driscoll, president and chief executive officer of Diamond Foods, which this year in an effort to scoop up some of the share debuted new popcorn products from its Pop Secret and Kettle brands.

More than half of the popcorn introductions recorded globally in the 12 months ended in June were positioned on a health platform, rising to over 78% in the United States. Products perceived as natural was a key segment, according to Innova, with more than 28% of global launches using either a natural or additive-, preservative-free claim.

Greek is the word

Greek yogurt continues to be a popular snack choice, and now snack makers are harnessing its health halo in such products as Instant Greek Yogurt Pudding Mix from Jel Sert, Greek yogurt-coated Pretzel Crisps from Snack Factory. Hostess Brands debuted a line of Greek Yogurt Cakes made with real Greek yogurt in such flavors as apple cinnamon and strawberry. Brach’s Greek Yogurt Granola Bites and G.H. Cretors Greek yogurt-drizzled caramel corn also were showcased at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Retail sales of yogurt in the United States are expected to approach $9.3 billion by 2017, up from $7.3 billion in 2012, according to Packaged Facts. As Greek yogurt continues its dramatic rise, a number of similar products have emerged in mainstream markets, including Icelandic-style yogurt, German quark, French fromage blanc, and yogurt made with coconut milk, sheep’s milk, almond milk and goat milk.

Sriracha remains a hot flavor in savory snacks.

Savory flavors showing favor

From peri peri to pickle, savory flavor trends reflect a growing appetite for exotic spices, sweet and savory combinations, and complex profiles.

Sriracha remains red hot in such new products as popcorn from Popcorn, Indiana, Pop! Gourmet Popcorn, and The Popcorn Factory, Giants sunflower seeds, and Cosmos Creations puffed corn. Also surging in popularity is wasabi, packing heat and complexity in new Chex Chips from General Mills, reduced-calorie popcorn from The Popcorn Factory, gluten-free rice snacks from Kameda Crisps and seasoned sliced almonds from Good Sense.

Adding sophistication to snacks are such gourmet-inspired flavors as smoked chili, gorgonzola, chorizo and maple, according to Innova. Savory snacks also are taking on full-meal flavors, from roast turkey to rack of ribs. Examples in the past year include Frito-Lay’s garlic bread variety of Lay’s potato chips, Enjoy Life Foods’ margherita pizza-inspired Plentils lentil-based snack chips and Lance Bolds buffalo wing blue cheese cracker sandwiches.

Dill pickles, Korean kimchi and other fermented flavors also are in favor, adding a tangy twist to chips, popcorn and more. Launches include Herr’s Creamy Dill flavored popcorn, Lite Works Popcorn from The Popcorn Factory, Skinny Girl Pretzel Thins in cucumber dill flavor and dill pickle peanuts from The Carolina Nut Co.

Restaurants including Taco Bell are keying in on snacking behaviors by launching portable items suitable for between-meal grazing.

Snacks on menus

Snacks represent a growing opportunity for restaurants, with 51% of consumers snacking at least twice a day, compared with 48% in 2012, said Technomic, Inc.

Nearly a third of consumers said they are snacking more frequently than they did two years ago, and their definition of between-meal bites has broadened to include more food and beverage options.

Of increasing importance to consumers is convenience, with 60% indicating portability is an important or extremely important factor when choosing a snack, up from 55% in 2012. KFC keyed in on the trend of on-the-go grazing with last year’s launch of Go Cups, designed to fit in a car cupholder and hold snack-size portions of chicken and fries. Additionally, Taco Bell has introduced menu items that may be eaten with one hand, including the Grilled Stuft Nacho and Loaded Grillers, the components of which are corralled within a tortilla.

To appeal to health-conscious snackers, Starbucks last fall began offering Evolution Harvest snack bars and trail mixes, which feature clean labels and on-trend ingredients, such as pumpkin seeds and organic agave syrup.

Another key factor for snackers is value: forty-five per cent of those who purchase snacks from restaurants said they order from the dollar or value menu. Several fast-food chains, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s, have tweaked their dollar menus over the past year to include more items at higher price points.

As for the most popular snacking occasions, 71% of consumers said they typically grab a bite during mid-afternoon. Late night represents the next most popular snack time (40%), followed by mid-evening (39%) and mid-morning (37%). Nearly half of consumers surveyed reported eating snacks between meals, and 45% replace a meal or two with snacks.

To court these round-the-clock customers, restaurant chains are experimenting with deals across day parts. Jack in the Box targeted the nighttime nibbler with a new late-night Munchie Meals menu last year.