The savory snack industry is expected to grow by $10 billion by 2012, according to Business Insights. At the same time, consumers are seeking more natural and organic ingredients, spices and exotic ethnic touches while clamoring for fewer additives such as MSG, hydrolyzed proteins and hydrogenated oils. Oh, and make them healthier, too.
All of those factors are good news, showing America's continuing love affair with savory snacks -- as long as snack manufacturers can meet those needs without sacrificing crunch and flavor.
What could say savory snacks better than chips? But not necessarily potato chips. Several manufacturers are putting a new face on what surely is the definitive snack staple. One new face is appropriately named Sensible Portions, the premier brand of World Gourmet Products Inc. (www.sensibleportions.com), Wayne, N.J.
The Sensible Portions line presents a wide array of "better-for-you" snacks, including "all-natural" choices such as multigrain crisps, pita crackers and pita chips. In addition to featuring convenient packaging that provides built-in portion control, the processor includes functional ingredients such as whole grains, soy protein, vitamins, iron and fiber. Not invited are trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol. Sensible Portions provides a healthier feel to snacking that also is highly marketable.
Another bold, new face in chips comes via a focus on alternatives to wheat and corn flour, specifically beans. Doug and Dave Foreman, owners and founders of Bean Brand Foods Inc. (www.beanitos.com), Austin, Texas, were early adopters of this approach. They mix pinto beans or black beans with whole grain rice and flax seed to create bean dough that they cut into a round shapes, bake and flash fry in pure vegetable oil.
The result is a unique, fiber-rich chip — Beanitos — that has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. "It's hard work to make a bean-based chip that also tastes great," says Doug Foreman. "It took us two years to get the Beanitos formula just right."
Corazonas Foods Inc.'s motto is "heart-healthy snacks." The Los Angeles company debuted a reduced-fat potato chip with plant sterols (CardioAid from ADM) in early 2008. The phytosterols have been clinically proven "to inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine by up to 50 percent, which in turn can lower LDL blood cholesterol by up to 15 percent," the company claims.
The flavors are novel as well: Italiano Four Cheese, Spicy Rio Habanero, Mediterranean Garlic & Herb, Pacific Rim Barbecue, as well as Slightly Salted. Later came a line of tortilla chips, also with phytosterols, and this year saw the debut of oatmeal squares (cereal bars) with phytosterols.
Ever since George Crum created the ultra thin, crispy, fried potato to spite a critical customer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1853, these chips have been going back to the kitchen for improvement. Michael Season's potato chips are reduced in fat and spiked with Mediterranean flavors with no preservatives, trans fats or saturated fats.
"Our customer base is expanding; they are looking for better-for-you snacks," says Michael Seasons, president of Natural Snacks LLC (www.seasonssnacks.com), Addison, Ill. "People still want to indulge, but they also want to take the guilt out of snacking. More and more, people are becoming aware of the importance of nutrition and starting with good eating habits. With recent focus on what schools are serving to our children, and our nation's issue with obesity, I believe it [healthy eating] will be the norm."
Keeping it natural
Getting a healthy savory snack to taste "just right" is an R&D project that takes many variables into account. "The trend overall is to insert as much efficacy as possible into the snack food item without impacting, taste, color or longevity," says George Pontiakos president and CEO of BI Nutraceuticals (www.botanicals.com), Long Beach, Calif. "To follow that trend effectively entails meeting numerous technical challenges. For example, probiotics are becoming more popular, so the challenge is maintaining the active component because probiotics tend to be fragile."
Companies such as Balchem Corp., Danisco and Ganeden Bioetch have developed microencapsulated probiotics that can survive the harsh environments of processing, allowing for their effective use in finished snack products.