Globally, consumers spent $374 billion on snack foods in 2013, an increase of 2% over the previous year, according to Nielsen’s “Global Survey of Snacking.” While Europe ($167 billion) and North America ($124 billion) make up the majority of worldwide sales, growth is fastest in developing regions. Asia-Pacific ($46 billion) and Latin America ($30 billion) increased 4% and 9%, respectively, while sales in the Middle East/Africa ($7 billion) grew 5%, according to the report.
“The competitive landscape in the snacking industry is fierce,” said Susan Dunn, executive vice president, Global Professional Services, Nielsen. “Demand is driven primarily by taste and health considerations and consumers are not willing to compromise on either. The right balance is ultimately decided by the consumer at the point of purchase.”
Neilsen’s survey polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries to identify which snacks are most popular around the world and which health, taste and texture attributes are most important in the selection criteria.
More than three-quarters of global respondents (76%) eat snacks often or sometimes to satisfy their hunger between meals or to satisfy a craving, and 45% of global respondents consume snacks as a meal alternative—52% for breakfast, 43% for lunch and 40% for dinner.
Snacks with all-natural ingredients were rated very important by 45% of global respondents and moderately important by 32%—the highest percentages out of the 20 health attributes included in the study. The absence of artificial colors (44%), genetically modified organisms (43%) and artificial flavors (42%) were also rated very important. Caffeine-free (23%) and gluten-free (19%) snacks were very important to about one-fourth and one-fifth of global respondents, respectively.
Less is more for roughly one-third of those surveyed who think it’s very important that snacks be low in sugar (34%), salt (34%), fat (32%) and calories (30%). One-fourth wanted snacks that have either low or no carbohydrates. Conversely, roughly one-third are looking for beneficial ingredients, rating fiber (37%), protein (31%) and whole grains (29%) as very important attributes in the snacks they eat.
Environmentally conscious consumers said it is very important that snacks include ingredients that are sourced sustainably (35%), are organic (34%)s and use local herbs (25%). Meanwhile, portion control is very important for just over one-fourth of those surveyed (27%).
“Health is the foundation of everything happening in food right now,” said LuAnn Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, The Netherlands. And snacks are “rising to the occasion,” according to Innova’s list of Top 10 Food Trends for 2015. The company noted, “Formal mealtimes are continuing to decline in popularity and growing numbers of foods and drinks are now considered to be snacks. Quick healthy foods are tending to replace traditional meal occasions and more snacks are targeted at specific moments of consumption, with different demand influences at different times of day.”
Clear labeling and transparency about what’s in products will be critical to success, Ms. Williams advised. Millennials are significant drivers of market activity, and they aren’t cooking, which creates opportunities for “ultra-convenient” lifestyle products.
“It’s socially acceptable to be eating all the time now,” she said. “Everything has been ‘snackified.’” Brand marketers need to engage younger consumers, connect with them via social media and demonstrate that the company has strong values.
“Naturally functional foods” like chia are helping to shape the new functional foods market, Ms. Williams added. However, “there’s still space for functional ingredients with approved health claims and credibility.”
According to Alison Raban, Certified Food Scientist, food technologist at BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, CA, “Convenience, flavor and nutrition generally drive most food and beverage purchases,” but these factors play an even larger role when it comes to demand for healthy snacks and nutrition bars.
Along with a healthy profile, products must deliver great taste and be easy to consume while on the go, she said. “Convenience has always been a big factor with busy moms, but now we are seeing an increasing number of Millennials being targeted with marketing campaigns addressing a solution for their fast-paced lives.”
Jean Heggie, strategic marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis, MO, noted that Millennials frequently consume snacks as meal replacements, and thus expect high nutritional content. Busy, on-the-go lifestyles are also contributing to growth. “Convenience is a big driver in all food categories, especially snacking,” she said. “People want to eat healthier, but they also want their food in convenient, single-serve formats that they can eat on the run.”
According to data from IRI, 86% of consumers are snacking at least once throughout the day, Ms. Heggie noted, and 51% consume three or more snacks per day. Overall snacking frequency has risen from 1.9 snacks/day in 2010 to 2.8 snacks/day in 2014, representing a 47% increase. Products for meal replacement and “bridge” snacks will be supported by strong consumer demand in the years to come, she predicted.
In 2012, Mintel reported that when choosing a healthy snack, consumers rated the presence of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, whole grains and fruits/vegetables as most important. The report also indicated consumers avoid snacks with excessive calories, sodium, sugar, fat and carbohydrates.
Experts agreed that protein and fiber offer substantial, functional appeal, and are among the most common macronutrients consumers are demanding. According to Neelesh Varde, senior product manager at Roquette, Geneva, IL, proteins and fibers are gaining recognition because they have been associated with positive health benefits and can deliver sustained energy more effectively than most carbohydrates. “Both proteins and fibers are known for their satiating effects, and fibers have been shown to improve digestive health. Snackers as a whole don’t avoid ingredients; instead, niche groups of snackers tend to stay away from specific products. Those looking for sustained energy, for example, may try to avoid sugars.”
Mr. Varde said his company, which supplies pea protein, believes strongly in the value of innovation in food, health and nutrition. “We have provided a great vegetable protein for formulators to use; in addition we are developing new fibers and starches around the yellow pea. We have also invested in a lot of research. For example, in human clinical trials, our pea protein has been proven to have satiating effects. In addition, our soluble corn and wheat fibers have been shown to have satiating effects over extended periods of time, leading to positive effects on weight management.”
Ms. Heggie said choosing the best protein for an application is critical. “Soy protein is an economical, high-quality and highly versatile protein that lends itself well to a variety of applications. It is also a plant-based protein, making it a great choice for marketers wanting to tap into consumers’ growing interest in plant-based nutrition. DuPont’s isolated soy protein contains all the essential amino acids to meet nutrition needs. It is well digested and has a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, making it a complete, high quality protein.”
Demand for protein will continue to grow as brands highlight the value of protein-rich snacks, she predicted. “In just the past few years, technological advancements have enabled manufacturers to keep up with consumer’s increasing demands. Today’s products can be made with up to 30 grams of protein per serving, vs. 15-20 grams, which used to be the standard. Along with changing consumer demands creating opportunities for products like these, ingredient and formulation technologies have advanced to enable marketers to deliver these benefits in foods and beverages that taste great too.”
In addition to protein, fiber and antioxidants, Ms. Raban said whole grains are gaining traction in sweet and savory snacks, and ancient grains are being heavily marketed in gluten-free snacks. According to Mintel, gluten-free snacks increased 163% from 2012-2014, reaching sales of $2.8 billion.
In general, consumers are scrutinizing ingredient lists and avoiding those that don’t fit into their definition of natural and wholesome. Since those terms are rather vague, “manufacturers and marketers need to decide what the majority of the consumer base believes it means,” said Mr. Rabin. “This usually involves the trend of ‘free-from.’ For some it may mean no artificial colors and flavors while to others it may mean the removal of certain ingredients in order to make the finished product vegan/vegetarian or even gluten-free.”
Albert McQuaid, chief technical officer, Ireland-based Kerry Group, said taste is ultimately a critical part of delivering healthy products to consumers, and manufacturers have been challenged to improve nutrition without negatively impacting taste.
For example, protein is a core element of nutrition bars, which creates challenges in taste and texture. “We see people looking for ancient grains and other plant-based sources of protein, such as rice and pea protein,” he said, adding that companies are increasingly incorporating whole grains into beverage formats.
Snacking has become a specific eating occasion, similar to lunch or dinner, according to Cal-Taylor Tharp, product manager, Roquette. “In this fast-paced world, eaters are looking for quick ways to achieve their nutrition goals—from Millennials who are looking to eat more sustainably and naturally, to Boomers who are looking to improve their nutrition by addressing specific health concerns.”
Roquette has developed a range of products from microalgae it believes can “revolutionize the food industry.” Mr. Tharp noted, “Microalgae has been around for 2.5 billion years and with 30,000 identified species, but with very few having been researched, there’s a lot to learn. These whole food ingredients contain a mixture of lipids, starches, fibers, proteins and micronutrients that provide an overall increase in nutrition and improvement to texture.”
Speaking of microalgae, Portugal-based supplier Allma has developed Chlorella Crunches, a snack and ingredient solution that can deliver important nutrients to a broad range of everyday snack products. Sun-grown Chlorella vulgaris powder is blended with white rice powder. Free of GMOs, gluten and other major allergens, Allma’s chlorella is a 100% vegetable source of protein, including all nine essential amino acids. It also contains significant levels of omega-3 and omega-6 oils, complex carbohydrates, phytonutrients including lutein, beta-carotene, chlorophyll and zeaxanthin, and a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, the company said.
According to Mike Bush, senior vice president, Ganeden Biotech, Mayfield Heights, OH, supporting digestive and immune health is important for all age groups. “Right now we are seeing a lot of popularity for those products that are marketed to children, athletes, moms and active seniors. Consumers are no longer interested in taking another pill; they want to receive the benefits of probiotics while consuming something they already enjoy. So although we see demand driven from all demographics, there may be different applications that resonate with each age group, such as digestive support for Baby Boomers, on-the-go products for Gen X and lifestyle friendly products for Millennials. However, the common theme is the same: give them products that fit into their lives while adding the functional benefits they are looking for.”
The company’s GanedenBC30 probiotic has gained popularity due to substantial scientific backing for safety and efficacy, Mr. Bush noted. “Due to its unique ability to remain viable in finished products, GanedenBC30 allows the introduction of new probiotic innovations to the food and beverage industry that would otherwise be impossible.”
Finding a probiotic strain that has the appropriate science backing it, and is resilient enough to survive digestive transit and the manufacturing processes involved in food production is vital. Each probiotic strain is unique; survivability, safety, efficacy and the benefits to the consumer can differ from strain to strain.
Mr. Bush predicted the next several years will bring more innovative probiotic food and beverage applications centered around research backed strains.
Raising the Bar
Nutritional snack bars represent a $6 billion market in the U.S., according to Bob Verdi, business director, Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, NY. With annual sales growth estimated at 6.4%, it is one of the fastest growing food/beverage categories in mass merchandise channels.
According to the Food Marketing Institute, snacking frequency was up in 2012 with 49% of consumers reporting snacking 1-2 times per day, and 43% reporting 3-4 times per day.
Recognizing that Baby Boomers and Millennials are two of the largest market segments for nutrition bars, and health products in general, Virginia Dare completed consumer research in 2013 to understand similarities and differences in purchase behavior between these two groups. A national survey was completed of nutrition bar consumers (586 Baby Boomers, 547 Millennials) to determine flavor preferences and purchase behavior. Criteria for participation in the study included consuming nutritional snack bars at least once per month. Focus groups were also conducted to gain additional consumer insight.
“For both Baby Boomers and Millennials the convenience of nutritional snack bars was a main reason for purchase,” Mr. Verdi noted. “The top four reasons were all related to convenience for both groups. The next strongest response for purchase intent was flavor, which is consistent with many other studies that investigate food and beverage purchase behavior.”
Millennials were more inclined to purchase a nutritional snack bar for energy before or during exercise, whereas Boomers were more likely to purchase bars as part of a weight loss program—presumably to replace a more caloric meal. Both groups viewed nutritional snack bars as a source of energy and could be used to satisfy cravings between meals.
The remainder of the benefits concerned condition-specific health claims (see Figure 1). “For all of these claims there was a much stronger response from the Baby Boomers than for the Millennials,” Mr. Verdi said. “These findings suggest that nutritional snack bars making condition-specific health claims will not be of interest to Millennial consumers. Conversely, Baby Boomer consumers value these condition-specific health claims.”
Protein and fiber both received strong responses from both groups. Not being formulated with high fructose corn syrup and lack of artificial sweeteners were also important to both demographics. “Somewhat surprising was the relatively weak response to many of the micronutrients by both groups, although about a third of Baby Boomers responded well to antioxidants and vitamin D. Boomers also responded well to a low-sugar claim, likely due to a high incidence of diabetes in this age group.”
Millennials responded favorably to “clean label—nothing I can’t pronounce.” Mr. Verdi offered, “This information, combined with the Millennials’ lack of interest in specific micronutrients, and their lack of interest in condition-specific health claims, strongly suggests products with a wholesome positioning formulated with minimally processed ingredients will resonate with Millennials. In contrast, it appears Baby Boomers are more accepting of condition-specific health claims and the micronutrients responsible for the claims.”
Regarding flavors, chocolate and peanut butter were the most popular overall, and both groups expressed strong interest in salted caramel, maple, coffee, tropical fruits and mango. Boomers were more conservative regarding new flavors though, while Millennials gravitated to more trendy flavors (Nutella, coffee, tea, Greek yogurt, chia).