Healthy snacks fill aisles
Consumers are snacking more than ever, but they aren’t necessarily reaching for a bag of chips and a can of soda.
"To consumers, a snack can be anything," said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel. "In fact, when we ask people in the United States what snacks they consume, their top five responses are fresh fruit, cheese, cereal, ice cream and yogurt. As you can see, healthy choices dominate." Chocolate, she said, comes in sixth.
Dornblaser said snacks go far beyond the typical categories — chips, popcorn and bars — and extend to almost anything that can be consumed in an easy, portable format. "I think that helps to explain the rise of Greek yogurt, especially in the United States, as it is often consumed as a healthy snack," she said.
What will consumers want in the future? "Companies have a real opportunity to offer consumers snacks that are in unusual formats, flavors and offer unique benefits," Dornblaser said.
"Keep in mind, too, that beverages stand in for snacks, as we see with all the custom-made and bottled smoothie drinks on the market," she said.
Gluten-free becomes latest trend
If fat, sodium and partially hydrogenated oils were yesterday’s undesirable ingredients, the substance many Americans are currently looking to avoid is gluten. A recent NPD survey found that about a third of U.S. adults say they want to cut down or be free of gluten in their diets. More people are being diagnosed with Celiac disease, but even consumers who have no gluten intolerance are opting to eat foods that are free of gluten because they perceive them as healthier.
As more Americans say no to gluten, the market for gluten-free foods and beverages has continued to grow even faster than anticipated. Sales of the products reached $4.2 billion in 2012, for a compound annual growth rate of 28% over the 2008 to 2012 period, according to a recent Packaged Facts report. Packaged Facts expects U.S. sales of gluten-free foods and beverages to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.
With so many consumers looking for gluten-free foods, retailers can’t afford to not be in that business. Carving out space for a gluten-free section containing crackers; cookies; snack bars, a segment that is showing impressive category growth within gluten-free products; cereals; and beverages lets consumers know that retailers are on trend with products that address their nutritional concerns and allows them to cross-market gluten-free products in other sections of the store to consumers.
Retailers offer fresh food on the go
Drug chains looking to the future of the food category are likely to be putting more effort behind fresh products.
Shelf-stable foods, while still a part of the mix, are shrinking in importance to reflect changing consumer shopping habits. "The need to stock the pantry is lessening since food is everywhere," said June Jo Lee, VP strategic insights at the Hartman Group. "At the same time, customers say they want quicker in-and-out shopping experiences."
The myth of the "mom shopper" also is ending, Lee said. "Everyone is shopping for their own food." And they are frequently eating it on the go and alone.
Since consumers eat more meals on the go, the market has seen more blurring between retail and food-service channels. The barriers drug stores once saw to offering fresh and prepared foods have melted away, and more chains are adding grab-and-go food sections. Consumers are now accustomed to shopping multiple locations for food and show little resistance to purchasing fresh and prepared foods at a drug store as long as the choices are tempting.
The possibilities are many — and innovative chains keep exploring new ways to grab a bigger piece of the fast food dollar. "We think Duane Reade’s UpMarket stores are fantastic," Lee said, of the format featuring frozen yogurt, sushi, soup, salads and juice bars. "Consumers say they can’t believe they can get these products in a drug store."