CHICAGO — In August, the Hershey Co. will launch its first product without artificial flavors, colors or high-fructose corn syrup. Brookside Fruit and Nut Bars contain fruit, whole roasted almonds, whole grain rolled oats and a layer of dark chocolate. Gluten-free and low in sodium, the bars will be available in three varieties: blueberry with acai, cherry with pomegranate, and cranberry with blackberry.
The product line represents two significant consumer trends influencing recent innovation at the Hershey, Pa.-based confectionery company: snacking and simple ingredients.
“That product was the first one that was created with the mindset of simple from the very beginning,” said Laura Renaud, associate manager of corporate communications for Hershey, in an interview with Food Business News at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 19-21 in Chicago. “Our R.&D. folks knew that was something really important when they began the product development.”
Hershey, which earlier this year announced plans to transition to easy-to understand ingredients, said 68% of global consumers want to recognize all of the ingredients on the label.
“Consumers’ relationship with food is fundamentally changing,” Ms. Renaud said. “They want to know and recognize the ingredients in their products, but beyond that, they also want to know how we’re sourcing our ingredients, so sustainability efforts are very important as well.”
|Laura Renaud, associate manager of corporate communications for Hershey.
By the end of this year, the company plans to remove such ingredients as lactose, vanillin, artificial flavor and polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR), an emulsifier, from Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars and Hershey’s Kisses. The company will share information on ingredients, sourcing, manufacturing and labeling with consumers on packaging and on-line. Additionally, the company said it will continue to work with suppliers to responsibly source sustainable ingredients, including 100% certified and sustainable cocoa and certified sustainable and traceable palm oil. The company is moving to non-bioengineered sugar and milk from cows not treated with rBST.
“We want to reinforce that this is a multi-year journey, and we’re going to be doing the transition across our entire North America product portfolio, so it’s not just looking at one ingredient in one product; it’s everything,” Ms. Renaud said. “And we’re going to be sharing progress on our web site. We realize that not everything is going to be easy or possible, and we’re going to communicate that really transparently with our consumers.
“The example we like to give is Jolly Rancher. The really vibrant, bright colors are signature to that brand, and right now, it’s really hard to get that color with non-artificial coloring.”
In an effort to be more transparent with consumers, Hershey lists the ingredients in its products, from aspartame to Blue 3, with simple descriptions on its web site, thehersheycompany.com.
“So everything we’re doing, whether it’s our commitment to simple, technology or product innovation, everything has a hyper consumer focus,” Ms. Renaud said. “Where the consumer is leading us is where we’re going.”
The consumer also is leading Hershey deeper into snack categories. With the recent acquisition of Krave Jerky meat snacks and last year’s launches of Hershey’s and Reese’s Spreads, the company recognizes broad opportunities across what it calls “the snacking continuum.”
“We’ve also established an infrastructure around what we’re calling snacks and adjacencies, so we’ve invested significant resources to make sure we’ve got the ability to launch and scale up over time,” said Anthony Tyree, vice-president of snacks and adjacencies. “Whether it be advertising, whether it be incremental sales, we’ve essentially put a pretty hefty investment in it because we recognize that’s the future of our company.”
Two new snacking platforms are slated for an August debut. Hershey’s and Reese’s Snack Mixes combine bite-size candies, nuts and pretzels. Hershey’s, PayDay and Mr. Goodbar Snack Bites include crunchy nuts and bite-size confections. Both product lines are packaged in a single-serve tube pack for one-handed eating. The snack mixes, which won a 2015 Innovative New Product Award at the expo, will debut in convenience stores with later distribution in the broader retail marketplace.
“Right now, we’re focused on launching in C-stores because that’s where you’re going to be seeing a lot of that, and that’s really a growing trend, too, is the shift away from traditional shopping into a lot of these convenience stores and easy, on-the-go (outlets),” said Brandy Woolford, associate manager of brand PR for Hershey.
For future acquisitions and innovation, Hershey said it isn’t necessarily targeting specific food categories, such as meat snacks or sweet spreads. Rather, the company looks for opportunities based on consumer need states and spaces.
“We’re interested in enhancement to snacks, such as spreads and syrups and so forth,” Mr. Tyree said. “We’re also interested in what we call ‘wholesome sweet snacks.’ The Brookside bar is a perfect example of that — permissible indulgence, real ingredients, whole foods. And we’re also interested in portable nutrition, which kind of gets into the protein space.“So, if you think about it, there are several categories underneath those wide spaces that we think are big opportunities for us.”