Healthy options hit snack shelves.

Remember when snacks meant just chips or pretzels, and tortilla chips seemed a little exotic? Now when consumers want to snack, they have a plethora of choices ranging from rice cakes to freeze-dried fruit. Increasingly, those snacking options are better-for-you products.

“The market has completely diversified,” said Morningstar analyst Erin Swanson. “There are so many different options for consumers, and there’s no lack of healthy snacking products since that market has expanded.”

A recent study from Mintel suggested that even in this economy, consumers are trading up for more upscale, and often healthier, snack options—particularly when those products offer them something beyond a quick snack fix.

Christine Brown, marketing manager for Natural Snacks, said consumers are demanding more from their snacks than just an indulgence. “People want snacking to be an opportunity to fulfill nutritional requirements, such as a whole grain serving,” she said. “It’s not just a treat anymore.”

Natural Snacks new Jalapeno Puffs, baked puffs made with organic cornmeal, are an example of a better-for-you alternative to a traditional snack. Baked snacks have surged in popularity as consumers turn away from fried products with a high fat content.

Products made from corn, rice and nuts have become more popular. A recent study from Mintel reported that sales of trail mix and rice/popcorn cakes substantially grew (17%) in food, drug and mass over the past few years, although those snacks still account for a small percentage of overall category sales.

Nuts also are being used in new ways. New nut chips and crisps made with pistachios or almonds, the Mintel report said, capitalize on the high nutrient value of nuts. Consumers can feel almost virtuous snacking on a chip that has a high fiber and antioxidant content. Frito-Lay’s True North Nut Crisps and Blue Diamond’s Nut Thins are two examples of successful nut crackers that offer consumers new snacking options.

Increasingly, drug stores are making a push into the better-for-you snacks. Under its Deerfield Farms label, Walgreens markets Flax granola bars, as well as a number of dried fruit products. CVS’s Gold Emblem brand includes trail mixes and granola bars.

Duane Reade’s DR Delish product lineup features trail mix and dried fruit, but the chain had created some interesting trail mix crunches and included soy crisps. Walgreens, which is making its own foray into fresh convenience foods, could follow the Delish lead as it absorbs the Duane Reade stores.

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