Multigrain snack products have increased in the past few years. They appear to be riding the change in USDA's Dietary Guidelines in 2005, which recommends three or more servings of whole grains a day.
But note all multigrain products contain whole grains. Whole grains include the fibrous bran along with the vitamin- and mineral-rich germ. Multigrain simply means it contains several types of grains. However, consumers see the word "multigrain" on food packages and believe these products are healthful.
Quaker Oats has had rice cakes in its portfolio for almost 20 years. With the trend for more grain interest, it makes sense Quaker considered how to add value to its rice cakes through the addition of a variety of grains, not just rice. Understanding the world of weight management snacks, Quaker folks surely were concerned that consumers needed snacks that were healthy and tasted really good.
We at the Understanding and Insight Group took a second look at this unassuming product because of the very clever product design. We feel Quaker created more than just a snack cake. These mini snack cakes give the same taste and mouthfeel experience of a popular and familiar (and competitive) fudge stripe shortbread cookie. Whether intentional or not, Quaker created a cookie experience in a 90-calorie rice cake snack. Now, that got our attention. And this multigrain snack does contain whole grains.
Understanding the marketplace
Sales of healthy snack foods in the U.S. grew from $13.7 billion in 2002 to $14.7 billion in 2004, an increase of nearly 7 percent, according to Mintel's 2005 Healthy Snacking report. Consumers eat a lot of snacks: 75 percent of people snack at least once a day, according to the American Dietetic Assn. (2000), and these snacks supply 23-25 percent of the average consumer's total daily calorie intake. So the healthfulness of the snack has become important.
Healthy snacks have gained shelf space in grocery stores and convenience stores. They are an expected product in a grocery aisle, not just a product that can only be purchased at a health food store.
In the healthy snack category there are four major competitors: Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg and PepsiCo. Each has a broad product portfolio that covers multiple food categories. These companies account for nearly half (48 percent) of all healthy snack sales.
The most popular foods eaten as healthy snacks are fresh fruit, raw vegetables and nuts/dried fruit/ trail mix. All of these have whole food healthfulness in common. This makes it difficult for the more processed snacks to earn a healthy halo.
When choosing healthy snacks, consumers look for a health-related benefit, which many times reflects lowered fat, all natural, whole grains, portion control, high fiber or moderation in sodium. These benefits are the most recent variation on what "healthy" means.
One of the perceived gaps for healthy snacks is that they do not always taste as good as regular snacks. This continues to be a leverageable opportunity for snack food manufacturers. For a food to be craveable, it must not only have a great flavor but also a great texture. A complex flavor (multiple tastes) and a simple or moderately complex texture drives craveablity, according to our own Crave It! studies. Mini Delights Chocolatey Drizzle understands this and delivers a snacking experience that rivals a chocolate shortbread cookie.
Key: Creating a product to fill a new space requires knowing the attributes the consumer will use as a frame of reference. When this knowledge is used along with key trends in the snacking market, manufacturers stand a better chance of creating a product that consumers will understand and therefore may be motivated to purchase.
Insights: Quaker Mini Delights are aimed at women who are managing their weight. The Quaker brand promises healthiness. The location (next to rice cakes) promises this is helping you manage your weight. Quaker was able to leverage this brand heritage along with the gap of good tasting healthy snacks to create Mini Delights.
Our Crave It! and Healthy You! Insights find flavor, texture, baked and healthy ingredients are the key factors that suggest healthfulness in snacks. For cookies, texture complexity (difference between the chocolate and the base), flavor and bite size along with brand can impact craveability.
Quaker has merged healthy snacks and cookies to create a product with textural complexity, flavor impact that is baked, a healthy halo from a well-known brand and a flavor echo from another popular brand.
Key trends in the snacking area are convenience, flavors and healthfulness.
Convenience: On-the-go packaging is critical to fit consumers' busy lives and to help them deal with a need for a snack when they are away from their preferred food choices.
Flavors: Rice snacks have focused periodically over the years on either a few lead flavors -- e.g., buttery, cheese, original/plain -- or more trendy flavors, such as caramel corn and jalapeno cheddar. Having multigrains to deliver a more rounded-out flavor than the rice cake base allows the form to deliver more taste experiences. Creating analogs of cravable snacks enables consumers to have a great tasting snack and get their cravings satisfied for the moment.
Healthfulness: An overall industry focus on trying to reduce obesity combined with consumer behavior for snacking equates to an intense industry desire to provide snacks that are healthier. This includes the type and amount of fat, composition of all of the carbohydrates and looking at both the calorie and sodium levels. Many consumers are also seeking the "cleanest" ingredient statements they can find.
Along with this is the 100-calorie portion size, the latest "trend" in the ever evolving world of health trends. It is noteworthy that this is a return of the diet of 1923 when consumers were told to eat foods in 100 calorie portions.
In Mini Delights, Quaker has managed to bundle convenience with craveable snacking under the aura of healthiness.
Quaker Mini Delights are available in six-pack boxes of 90 calorie portion packs at $2.99. At the time of this writing, three flavors are available: buttered popcorn, cinnamon streusel (think of a famous cinnamon bun!) and chocolatey drizzle. For our consumer panel, we chose chocolatey drizzle.
Along with the snacks, the box has a photo of a big chunk of chocolate. The snacks are in a 0.7 oz (20g) foil bag with the same imagery replicated on the bag. While this is a snack that may be targeted against cookies and other craveable foods, it is shelved with the rice cakes, so this "cookie alternative" can be difficult to find.
Texture is key to a snack experience; textural complexity is critical to the cookie experience. The texture of Mini Delights is crunchy and crisp while the chocolate drizzle is smooth and soft. After chewing, the snack melts in your mouth to form the same flavor and texture of fudgey shortbread cookies.
The grain base (wheat, corn and rice) forms the familiar balling in the mouth as when you chew a cookie or cinnamon bun. This is unlike snacks that shatter when eaten (potato chips) and must be washed down with a beverage. So this product has a signal that is more like a cookie or a cinnamon bun. The chocolate taste is strong and lingering and supports the perception of cookie in your mouth.
The mini cakes are small and round with a slight dusting that adheres to the fingers (just like a shortbread cookie). Most people had no problem popping the snacks in their mouths and eating them. The product shape supports eating directly out of the package.
The bag fits into your purse, backpack or pocket and so can be taken with you on the go. Due to the flavor, both women and men enjoyed the eating experience.
Mini Delights come in under the 100 calorie paradigm of healthiness. At only 90 calories, one shouldn't be shocked that 30 percent of the calories are from fat (3.5g). Add just 85mg of sodium, and these snacks seem fairly healthy. The one drawback was the scant 1g of fiber, a surprise since it is made from whole grains.
Does the product deliver?
This is a craveable snack. The crisp texture satisfies crunching needs, the contrast against the chocolate drizzle fulfills the softer texture cravings. The flavor can banish the need for a cookie. This is an analog that really works while still maintaining its healthfulness.
The Quaker rice cakes brand is positioned toward women trying to mange their weight. But this product will be enjoyed by consumers who do not eat rice cakes and are looking for a good snack. It was surprising to see the number of men and teens who liked this product. The challenge is to attract teens and men who may like the product but would not consider buying it based on the brand positioning.
How to make the idea bigger: This is a great product; a snack that has a healthy halo and tastes great. Creating more flavor/ texture analogs of other craveable experiences might be an option. Understanding how the product breaks down in the mouth to deliver the experience the analog is replicating is critical.
Another suggestion is to increase the amount of fiber in the product so it can stand with more health benefits than just low calories.
Rating: This product is very good. It leverages a flavor that is common to higher-calorie items; it has a complex texture which causes one to "look again"; and it has a familiar brand, which carries strong health associations yet allows for the replication of a craveable product.
Market potential: Good. The product will connect with the targeted user group and is broad enough to reach other potential user groups to make this line extension do well -- as long as consumers can find it in the store. This is an example of creating an experience through the linking of certain tastes and textures associated with other categories of products.
Hollis Ashman is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley is president of the Understanding and Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. For more information, see www.theuandigroup.com.