As the definition of snacks has continued to broaden, Innova Market Insights’ definition now includes not only traditional savory or salty snacks and snack nuts and seeds, but also products such as meat snacks, popcorn and fruit-based snacks, as well as finger foods and hors d’oeuvres. Using this definition, nearly 40% of global snack launches recorded in the 12 months to the end of June 2015 were positioned on a health platform of some kind, rising to more than 72% in the U.S.
The majority of claims concerned passive benefits, with interest in clean labeling and free-from products leading the way, particularly in the U.S., where penetration levels are highest. Natural, no additives/preservatives and/or organic claims featured on 25% of global launches, rising to 45% in the U.S.
Gluten-free also continues to feature strongly, used on 14% of global launches and more than 41% in the U.S. In terms of product and market development, the snacks category benefits particularly from the fact that many basic snacks ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, soy and nuts, are naturally gluten-free, so it is a claim that is relatively easy to achieve in many instances. Ingredients used to replace wheat or other cereals and that offer a gluten-free formulation in the U.S. over the past few years have included lentils, black beans, navy beans, cassava, brown rice, nuts, sweet potatoes and a wide variety of other vegetables.
Products & Ingredients On-Trend
Bean chips have been featured increasingly in product activity, with launches such as General Mills’ Pinto Bean and Black Bean Multigrain Bean Chips under its Food Should Taste Good brand, which also included flax, sesame and sunflower seeds, as well as quinoa. The Good Bean also launched tortilla-shaped Bean Chips with Sweet Potato & Quinoa, also featuring a blend of chickpeas, navy beans, red lentils and pea protein.
The use of ancient grains such as quinoa is also increasingly popular, offering a nutritious, often gluten-free option. KIND Healthy Snacks, for example, has followed the trend to popped snacks with its latest Popped bars featuring six grains: amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa and sorghum. The Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt and Salted Caramel variants add yet another on-trend dimension in terms of flavor options.
Other interesting ingredients include seaweed in the Chomperz Crunchy Seaweed Chips range from SeaSnax and the Oceans Halo snacks range from New Frontier Foods; a blend of popcorn and corn chips for Popcorn Indiana’s Fit Popcorn Chips; snack chips based on gluten-free pita bread with Toufayan’s Gluten Free Scoop-able Pita Chips; Carrot Snacks baked puffs made with carrots, corn and sea salt from B&G Foods under the Pirate’s Booty brand; and Flamous Brands’ Falafel Chips, designed to accompany hummus dips. Hain Celestial also launched a range of stacked chip products based on vegetables with its Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips range in Sea Salt, Sour Cream & Onion, Cheddar Cheese and BBQ variants. At around the same time, Calbee launched its Snapea Crisps made from 70% green peas that are baked not fried.
The use of minimal processing and limited ingredients has also been part of the clean label trend, with launches such as Boulder Canyon’s Coconut Oil Sea Salt Crisps, made with just three ingredients: potatoes, coconut oil and sea salt with a natural, gluten-free, kosher, non-GMO and trans fat-free, MSG-free and cholesterol-free positioning. Navitas Naturals also launched an organic, gluten-free and non-GMO Coconut Chips snacks range made by toasting coconut slices and featuring both sweet and savory variants.
Bars: A Mature & Complex Market
Another type of snack that is seeing strong growth in part due to its healthy positioning is the cereal or granola bar. The market has seen strong growth and very high levels of new product activity in recent years, partly reflecting its nutritious/healthy image, which has persisted despite some adverse publicity about the sugar content of some products, but also its potential role as a convenient on-the-go snack or meal replacement option.
According to Innova Market Insights data, the number of global cereal bar launches has more or less doubled over the five-year period to mid 2015 and continues to see double-digit growth. The U.S. dominates the market overall and tends to lead in product development in a relatively mature and complex market. It includes a wide range of products such as granola or muesli bars, energy and performance bars, nutrition bars and breakfast bars, although many products now look for points of difference by combining features and blurring definitions still further.
Despite concerns over how healthy some of the products actually are, there is ongoing emphasis on various healthy attributes. More than 80% of the cereal bar launches recorded by Innova Market Insights had a health positioning of some kind in the 12 months to the end of June 2015, rising to more than 90% in the U.S. As in the rest of the snacks market, and indeed the food and drinks market as a whole, concerns over clean labels continue to be a key focus, with more than 50% of U.S. cereal bar launches positioned on a natural, additive-/preservative-free and/or organic platform.
The strong interest in free-from options has led to the use of gluten-free positionings moving ahead of natural, additive-/preservative-free and organic in the U.S., used on more than 60% of launches, although this share falls to less than 37% globally. Interest in protein content is also rising strongly, with high in and source of protein claims used on 22% of global cereal bar launches, rising to 40% in the U.S. The performance bar market, where products traditionally tend to feature protein, is also strong, with about one-fifth of U.S. launches featuring a sports/recovery or energy/alertness positioning.
The most notable development in protein bars is their move from a specialist product for endurance and performance athletes to a mainstream positioning where a whole raft of consumers look to their potential in terms of benefits such as satiety, weight management, improved muscle mass and increased energy. Additions to the U.S. market in 2014 included Clif Kid Zbar Protein, Strong & Kind from KIND Healthy Snacks and Lean Protein & Fiber Bars from thinkThin. More recently, in 2015, launches have included Campbell Soup Company’s V8 Protein bar, using the well-known vegetable juice brand and featuring soy protein as well as a quarter cup of vegetables (sweet potato and carrot). The three varieties include Chocolate Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin and Chocolate Pomegranate with Cranberries.
Other health claims featured strongly in the U.S. cereal bars market included high in/source of fiber, used on 33% of U.S. launches, rising to more than 40% if whole grain claims are also included. Low and light claims were also featured on more than 17% of launches, particularly relating to reduction in sugar content, with nearly 12% of launches featuring a no added sugar, low sugar or sugar free positioning.
With the highly competitive nature of the market, many products use multiple positionings and claims, as well as well-known brands. Balance Bar, one of the pioneering energy bar brands that helped to move the sector into the mainstream in the 1980s and 1990s, has launched a new format in 2015 with its Balance Bites crunchy snack bites in chocolate or peanut butter flavors, sold in single-serve pouches. This followed the early 2015 introduction of a Gluten Free Bites extension to the Gluten Free Bar (GFB) range, featuring bite-sized versions of the original nut, protein and dried fruit bar.
Activity in more specialist functional products has included the Thrive Bar range from GoMacro, featuring organic ingredients, protein, fiber and 180 calories. The three variants are targeted at specific health issues, with the Ginger Lemon Bar claiming to “help your tummy,” the blueberry Lavender Bar to “help your mind” and the curry Apricot Bar to “help your heart.”
Another interesting development has been Mars’ extension of its CocoaVia cocoa flavanols brand with the launch of three Goodnessknows bars. The three variants are Apple, Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate; Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate; and Peach & Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate. The bars are ready-cut into four snack squares, each with less than 40 calories. The four-square bars have a base of dark chocolate, with each serving delivering 100 mg of naturally occurring cocoa flavanols, claimed to support the healthy flow of nutrients and oxygen.
As the definition of snacking has continued to broaden it seems clear that high levels of new product and promotional activity are also continuing to drive sales in more traditional snacks markets. While offering a relatively healthy profile appears to continue to be important, it is perhaps less of a driver in some instances than the current focus on premium and super-premium products, often with unusual flavors and ingredients, the development of existing brands, the use of new ingredients and formats and the targeting of new usage occasions. This needs to be borne in mind when formulating healthier options.