Most baby boomers can recall when snacks were foods that spoiled a healthy appetite for dinner; at least that's what our parents tried to drill into us.
According to the dictionary, a snack is "a small portion of food or drink, or a light meal, especially one eaten between regular meals." That old definition grossly underestimates the impact snacks have on the modern diet, a diet that has all but abandoned the family meal. To a great degree, snacks define the modern nutritional environment as hostile or friendly. How we handle this "small" portion of our food makes a "big" statement about our health.
Bear Naked projects an image of healthy snacks for active individuals and professional athletes.
When the fast-food coup overthrew the family meal and we no longer had to budge to change the channel, snacks became just part of the onslaught of "empty calories" that pervaded the American diet. But now, consumer concern about rising fatness and slumping fitness is making it smart, even chic, to "spoil" calorie-laden, nutrient-poor fast food meals with snacks that promote a healthy anti-couch-potato image.
Lizanne Falsetto lived a life that many young women dream about: that of an internationally famous, high-fashion model. It's a life filled with travel, excitement, long hours and intense pressure to look perfect and perfectly thin, pressure so great that it can drive many models to sacrifice their health.
But Lizanne was not willing to succumb to the "typical model diet of little food and lots of cigarettes washed down with a bit of coffee," she says. She strutted to a different drummer, a philosophy that beauty emanates from the inside out, and it drove her to create a $20 million-a-year independent natural foods company called Think Products (www.thinkproducts.com), Ventura, Calif.
"What I saw missing was pure food with natural ingredients that helps sustain energy and prolong life," she says. "I saw a niche in the market that the 'natural' shoppers needed: easy convenient snack items that tasted great without preservatives."
Drawing ideas from her own health regimen, Lizanne created a line of nutrition bars with appropriate names like, Think Organic, Think Green and Think Thin. Filled with fruits, nuts, soy protein and a variety of green food powders, the bars provide healthy doses of nutrients and natural antioxidants.
And just to drive home the point that beauty is more than skin deep, Lizanne's "Think of a Cure" campaign donates the proceeds from "Think Pink" bars to breast cancer research. The campaign and bars were introduced at the March 10 Vitality Fashion Show, a venture among Think Products, L.A. Models and Whole Foods Market to benefit breast cancer research.
"This is a cause very near to me, as a family member and close friend have been diagnosed," say Falsetto. "Through education, organic nutrition and early diagnosis, we could be very close to finding a cure. I am committed to natural product develop and research linking nutrition as a key to eliminating this death threat to women and men everywhere."
Health-conscious consumers shun snacks that offer little but white flour, sugar and hydrogenated fats. The "in" ingredients are whole grains, protein -- especially soy protein -- healthy fats, natural sweeteners, fiber and phytochemical-rich fruits. Also, many dieters spread calories throughout the day in several small meals in an attempt to prevent hunger and reduce the risk of bingeing. Both trends fit the modern hectic lifestyle and blur the distinction between meals and snacks.
Brendan Synnot and Kelly Flatley co-founded Bear Naked (www.eat-granola.com), Norwalk, Conn., a company that projects an image of healthy snacks for active individuals and professional athletes. "Our products have been and always will be made from all-natural, wholesome ingredients you can actually pronounce, including whole grains, oats, and a variety of real dried fruit and nuts," says Rachel Sanzari, director of communications and nutrition.
Healthy ingredients aside, consumers still want taste and convenience. "Bear Naked market research shows that our core customers are eating granola primarily as a snack and, as a result, we offer a variety of packaging options," continues Sanzari.
Getting the whole message
Numerous studies have linked whole grains with protection from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. In the 2005 USDA Food Guide Pyramid, whole grains are the preferred choices for the bread and cereals group. ConAgra Mills (www.conagrafoods.com), Omaha, Neb., offers an extensive line of whole grains to match the now mainstream hunger for healthy snacks.
"Proprietary products like Ultragrain whole wheat flour and Sustagrain barley can give [manufacturers'] products a healthier nutritional profile while maintaining consumer appeal," says Elizabeth Arndt, manager of product development for ConAgra Mills.
While a number of grain suppliers are pursuing whole-grain white flour, ConAgra Mills is among a smaller group developing a market for barley. "In late 2005, the FDA approved a heart-health claim for barley based on evidence that the soluble fiber from barley can help lower serum cholesterol," continues Arndt. Sustagrain barley, available in flour, quick-cooking flakes, steel-cut and whole kernels, provides 12g of fiber per 40g serving (1/2 cup uncooked) -- nearly half of the recommended daily value.
Since 1984, Kashi has been focused on healthy snacking. Its TLC line features all natural, whole-grain granola bars, crackers and cookies.
Kashi Co. (www.kashi.com), La Jolla, Calif., was founded in 1984 to spread the gospel of whole grains. While its initial product was rice pilaf and the company became better known for its cereals, it now has turned its attention to snacking, especially since being bought in 2000 by Kellogg Co.
Company literature explains: "The name Kashi is a synthesis of 'kashruth' or kosher, and 'Kushi,' the last name of the founders of macrobiotics [a whole foods way of eating and living]. In Russian, the word kashi means porridge. In Hebrew, the word kashruth signifies simple or pure food. In Japanese, kashi implies energy food. And in Chinese, it means happy food."
To the company, Kashi has come to mean "healthy foods that taste great" (another company motto). Kashi's TLC line features all natural, whole-grain granola bars, crackers and cookies. Innovations in cereals include Kashi's Vive for digestive wellness, the first non-perishable product in the U.S. to contain probiotics, and Mighty Bites for kids, which has a unique blend of nutrients designed for kids, including choline for brain development.
When you do something simple and do it well, it can rise to the level of an art. Such was the art of Klaus Karg, the original baker of Dr. Kracker crackers, who began experimenting with various cracker recipes in his grandfather's bakery. "Hand-rolled, artisan flatbreads -- crackers to Americans -- long on flavor and simple in ingredients, are a common bread product in Germany's best traditional bakeries," says George Eckrich, director of sales and marketing for Dallas-based Dr. Kracker (www.drkracker.com).
Ekrich says he's been on a quest for a healthier snack for most of his adult life, "something I could feel good about eating. As a Texan, I have consumed more than my fair share of corn chips, all loaded with fat, transfat and salt. The baked chip alternatives were a good idea, but they offered little flavor. Then I found these flatbread crackers.
"We are redefining crackers and flatbreads by baking with whole grains and whole seeds without added fats, trans fats or oils," Eckrich continues. The flatbreads and Snacker Krackers are 100 percent natural and USDA certified organic. Dr. Kracker began producing the flatbreads in Dallas in early 2004, and distribution now reaches most major cities in the U.S.
Not just the latest flavor
Market research indicates sales of healthier snack items will continue to grow exponentially, say officials at Archer Daniels Midland Co. (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill. As a result, the company is putting a lot of R&D behind healthier ingredients for snacking, many of them bundled into preconfigured and custom solution sets for processors.
"Healthy ingredients can have an impact on taste, color and texture at certain levels," says Julie Ohmen, business manager of Aspire Food Systems, which is a new ADM service designed to help snack food formulators to bridge the critical gap between indulgence and healthful eating. The unit offers customized formulations for snack pieces, cookies, trail mixes, crackers, wafers and nutrition and energy bars.
"Aspire reflects our commitment to meet today's consumer demands and to envision tomorrow's needs," interjects Graham Keen, vice president of corporate marketing.
As if soy's health halo weren't enough, ZenSoy recently introduced Soy on the Go, which includes 32mg of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid.
Few foods are as versatile as soybeans, the richest sources of complete vegetable protein. Tofu and tempeh are vegetarian protein staples. Soymilks have gown in popularity as an alternative to milk. Soy also boosts the protein in nutrition shakes, bars, and a variety of baked snack items. Although its isoflavones have been linked to healthy blood lipid profiles and reduced risk of coronary heart disease, soy for some is still an acquired taste.
"In speaking with customers, we saw a need to break down consumer barriers to the soy category as a whole in terms of packaging, portability and taste," says Bruce Goria, director of marketing for ZenSoy (www.zansoy.com), South Hackensack, N.J. ZenSoy puddings do much to break down those barriers; the company claims its chocolate soy pudding is a top seller in the dessert/pudding category.
ZenSoy recently introduced Soy on the Go, a line of healthy soy milks in convenient single servings. Made from organic soybeans, the beverage offers 32mg of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid from algae.
"There is a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that people of all ages, from infants to aging adults, benefit from an adequate supply of DHA in the diet," says Goria. "Several recent scientific reviews have noted the importance of DHA in proper brain and eye function, as well as its potential role in decreasing the prevalence of several neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease. Despite its importance, natural food sources of DHA are limited, causing Americans to have among the lowest dietary intakes of omega-3 DHA in the world."
Most omega-3-rich plants contain linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that cells convert to DHA. Fish obtain linolenic acid from algae, and convert much of it to EPA and DHA. Recent research suggests that obtaining DHA already formed is highly beneficial for the brain, peripheral nervous system, retina and heart. But involving fish presents a dilemma for some vegetarians: how to obtain an abundant vegetarian source of DHA.
"Life'sDHA from algae is a vegetarian source of DHA. It's produced from start to finish in an FDA-inspected facility with controls in place to ensure the highest quality," says Cassandra France-Kelly, spokesperson for Martek Biosciences (www.martek.com), Columbia, Md. "And because it's not from fish, there is no risk of ocean-borne pollutants."
The ingredient is both Kosher and Halal, and comes from a non-genetically modified source. "Life'sDHA is accepted by the FDA for use in infant formulas and is the only DHA currently used in U.S. infant formulas," continues France-Kelly. She claims Life'sDHA will not change the taste of your product, "but it certainly will enhance its appeal."
Yogurt, a natural source of calcium and probiotic bacteria, has made a successful transition from ethnic specialty to popular health and fitness snack. Stonyfield Farm (www.stonyfield.com), Londonderry, N.H., for 24 years has been producing all natural and organic yogurts, smoothies, cultured soy, frozen yogurt, ice cream and milk, and claims to be the nation's first dairy processor to pay farmers not to treat cows with the synthetic bovine growth hormone rBST.
While the dairy industry has been promoting "three a day," Stonyfield Farm upped the calcium in its yogurt so it only takes "2-a-Day" to get the bone-health nutrient.
Despite the dairy industry's long-running "three-a-day" marketing program, Stonyfield's new 2-a-Day yogurt is enhanced in calcium. "Just two of these yogurts meet your daily calcium needs to help maintain and build strong bones," says Gary Hirshberg, president/CEO. "We've even added Vitamin D [20 percent of the recommended DV], which helps your body better absorb the calcium," plus inulin, a natural source of fiber and a prebiotic that feeds friendly gut bacteria and also tends to slow the absorption of sugar.
Stonyfield Farm's latest entry is an organic energy drink called Shift, a combination of protein, vitamins, acai and ginseng, but free of caffeine or guarana, which are in most energy drinks. "As the father of three teenagers and as a soccer coach, I know energy drinks promise a lot, but only give you a temporary, artificial energy spike followed by a quick low," continues Hirshberg. "For teens and young adults who want to maintain a healthy and sustainable energy level, Shift is the organic alternative."
Stonyfield also produces Brown Cow yogurt, known for its layer of natural cream on top. Brown Cow recently became the first yogurt to include whole grains as part of a new low fat variety that includes fruit, sunflower and flaxseed.
Ever since red wine became known as a natural source of resveratrol, a potent antioxidant, dark red and blue fruits have been popping up all over the healthy snack market. "Acai has gotten a lot of media attention because it's rich in antioxidants, but it's much more than that," says Jeremy Black, global brand manager at Sambazon (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., which claims to have brought the acai berry to U.S. attention in 2000. "Acai is truly 'whole food' nutrition -- it delivers healthy omega fats, fiber and protein, which is why it's considered on of the most powerful superfoods on the planet.
Sambazon has a plethora of products, the fortunes of which are linked to that of the acai berry. In addition to being a rich source of antioxidants, acai also delivers omega fats, fiber and protein.
"Studies have shown how the French and Mediterranean diets, rich in red wine and olive oil, help maintain heart, body, brain and skin. Organic Acai combines 30 times the antioxidants of red wine plus an essential fatty acid profile similar to olive oil. It's a potent combination you want to put in your diet every day," Black adds.
Sugary soft drinks are joined at the hip to empty-calorie snacks. In fact, according to the USDA, Americans consume about 36 gal. of sweetened soft drinks per person per year. If you include diet soft drinks, the average American dives headlong into a 55-gal. drum of soft drinks per year, a feat which displaces more nutritious beverages.
Inspired by great-tasting European sodas, the people at Izze Beverage Co. (www.izze.com), Boulder, Colo., created a natural carbonated beverage from fruit juices. "Today Izze is available in eight distinctive flavors and sold in grocery stores, coffee shops, schools, delis and restaurants across the U.S., Canada and numerous international markets," says spokesperson Meg Heitlinger.
The effort to oust soft drinks from schools is leaving a space for healthy choices that appeal to kids. "Because it is a healthier alternative and because kids like the flavors, Izze is in schools across the country, and schools continue to be a growing part of our business," says Heitlinger.
Healthy snacks are no fad; they are the future. That future is not just in eating healthy food that's tasty, but also in feeling good about making healthy choices, and what that says about the consumer.
"The market for healthier snack items is growing exponentially," says Graham Keen, vice president of corporate marketing for Archer Daniels Midland Co. (www.admworld.com), Decatur, Ill. "The global snack food market, valued at $66 billion in 2004, is projected to reach sales of more than $91 billion by 2010, according to research from Euromonitor International," says Keen.
So no longer fear using the word "snack" to describe your food product. If research confirms that your product and your target demographic are comfortable with the term, use it freely. But back it up by taking out unfavorable ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners and saturated and trans fats, and point out the addition of healthy ones -- while carefully staying within the bounds of FDA-recognized health claims.