Consumer snack trends moving more towards healthful options

CHICAGO Consumers may be watching their pocketbooks, but their snack preferences still are trending toward the more healthful options.

A recent visit to one Walgreens location proves that retailers are getting the message. While promotions were plentiful in the store, healthful snacks were the highlight. On an endcap near the front entrance, Corazona’s Heart Healthy chips and Polar and Dole brand fruit cups were merchandised together. In the store’s Cafe W area, nuts were a big part of the mix. Frito-Lay’s new TrueNorth trial size nut clusters were being promoted on an aisle wing for 69 cents. Private-label dried fruits and trail mixes shared space with Odwalla bars and 100-calorie packs from Nabisco near the fountain drinks and coffee dispensers.

Walgreens’ mix is proof that while retailers scramble to offer consumers more value, they can’t lose sight of what consumers have been telling them they want from food.

At the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting held this summer, new-product experts from Mintel International told attendees that consumers want products that have sustainability and inherent goodness of ingredients. They also want healthful choices for their kids.

“What’s in the products is important. Consumers don’t want them to be fortified with anything,” said Lynn Dornblaser, a new-product expert from Mintel. “There are more products being made with whole grains, such as Frito-Lay’s SunChips, General Mills Fiber One cereal bars and Nabisco’s Garden Harvest toasted chips. We’ll be seeing more of that.”

Nuts continue to be a strong category with dollar sales up 10 percent for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 7, according to Information Resources Inc. Sensing opportunity in the category, Frito-Lay recently launched TrueNorth, a line of 100 percent natural nut crisps, crunches and clusters that provide five grams of protein in every one-ounce serving. Frito-Lay executives said the brand will break new ground in a category that has provided “limited options” for consumers. Diamond Foods also recently added two new products: roasted almonds and sea salt, and pepper cashews.

Manufacturers are highlighting fruit and vegetable snacks, as well as protein-rich options. “Manufacturers are finding new ways of incorporating a serving of fruit and vegetables into the consumer’s diet,” Mintel’s Dornblaser said. “There are a lot of interesting examples of products for kids with labeling that clearly says the product contains real fruit or vegetables. It sends the right message to kids.”

Clif Kid Organic Twisted Fruit Real Fruit Rope, made with real fruit puree and fruit juice, is one good example. While not a substitute for fresh fruit, the product is equivalent to one serving of fruit. Mintel’s presentation of new products at the IFT meeting also mentioned Chewits Truly Smoothy Crazy Animals fruit gums, from a United Kingdom company. Taste tester attendees rated the product, which contains real juice and 30 percent less sugar than similar products, as their favorite new product in the healthful food for kid’s category. “That’s one concept that could translate well to the U.S. market,” Dornblaser said. “We don’t see many gummy products that contain real fruit. There could be a lot of opportunity here.” Another brand of 100 percent natural fruit snacks, Stretch Island Fruit Co.’s FruitaBu organic “smooshed” fruit flats and fruit twirls, already is carried in some supermarkets.

Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. recently introduced Let’s Grow!, a line of nutritious toddler meals and snacks backed with the company’s “No Junk Promise.” All 19 products in the line are all-natural with added vitamins and minerals, and are made with real fruits and vegetables. They contain no artificial flavors, colors, MSG, trans fats or refined sugar or preservatives.

“Moms are looking for healthful meals and snacks that they can feel good about feeding to their toddlers,” said Steve Hungsberg, director of marketing at Beech-Nut. “That’s why all Let’s Grow! products come with a no-junk promise that says we have taken out what moms don’t want and put in what they do.”

Toys ‘R’ Us recently featured several snacks from the line on a front endcap near the registers. Let’s Grow! Fruit Nibbles, Yogurt Nibbles in strawberry/banana, berries and cherries and tropical fruit, and Seven-Grain Nibbles in mixed vegetable and sweet potato flavors were among the products featured.

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