Food Processors Trying to Formulating Healthier Savory Snacks for Consumers

There's no oxymoron there. For many consumers, snacks have become the meal; for others, their diet plan promotes snacking as a means of weight control.

By Mark Anthony, PhD, Technical Editor

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Savory snacks, according to Mumbai-based consumer market research group Bharat Book Bureau (www.bharatbook.com), are a $75 billion global industry and poised to hit $85 billion next year. But they suffer a split personality.

By definition, a snack is something to enjoy only on occasion. But call it grazing, and snacking becomes a diet tool. Unless you do that in front of a television and snacks become the main culprit in the obesity epidemic. Which is it?

Well, all of those, so the challenge for processors is how to make snacks healthier without losing the attraction of crunching and munching that turns us especially toward savory snacks.

"Food makers are seeking to satisfy consumer demands for healthier snacks; they are looking for lower sodium, sugar and fats and to increase functional ingredients that provide qualities such as heart-health benefits or digestive health benefits," says Laura Daly, marketing manager for Snacks & Cereals at Cargill (www.cargill.com), Minneapolis.

But "looking for" and purchasing are not always the same thing. "Taste is always king," adds Daly. "When consumers were asked to list the most important attributes they consider when selecting the foods and beverages in a recent Natural Marketing Institute Health and Wellness Trends survey, taste was at the top — where it always is, above ‘health and nutrition' and being ‘natural.' "

Since consumers are only going to meet you halfway in your quest to make healthier snacks, creativity is a must. The product has to both be better, which means it has to carry a healthier profile, and it has to taste better in order to break the old paradigm that says healthy foods just don't measure up when it comes to taste.

Crunching the numbers

Something as simple as changing a cooking method can make a big difference in the most fundamental health/nutrition aspect: calories. But any such change has to be done right to maintain the organoleptic qualities of the original technique.

Taste is always king. When consumers were asked to list the most important attributes they consider when selecting the foods and beverages in a recent Natural Marketing Institute Health and Wellness Trends survey, taste was at the top — where it always is, above ‘health and nutrition' and being 'natural.'

– Laura Daly, Cargill

"Baked fries have been tremendously popular, and our sales have reached an all-time high since they were introduced them," says Mary Schulman, co-founder of Snikiddy Inc. (www.snikiddy.com), Boulder, Colo. With a passion for children's health, Schulman and her daughter, Janet Owings, founded Snikiddy in 2006 to create a "crunchy and tasty alternative to the fat-laden french fries and potato chips that typically dominate kid's diets — and [which] make them thirsty for sugar-rich sodas, creating a one-punch of high calories and low nutrients."

The company's baked fries are made with real potatoes and corn and are completely free of trans fats, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and preservatives. They contain no cholesterol, have half the fat of standard potato chips and are gluten- and wheat-free, as well as low in sodium.

Developed for kids and families, the baked fries are available in different flavors, including "Classic Ketchup," simple sea salt and barbecue. The company recently released new varieties that are dairy-free. "Snikiddy Baked Fries have also attracted a large following of consumers who are on strict gluten-free, low-calorie and low-sugar diets," adds Schulman.

Grains and seeds

Another tactic for "healthying up" savory snacks involves the use of the up-trending seeds and ancient grains. By using higher-protein, denser grains and seeds, formulators get to play on the advantages of the resultant denseness that, when baked, translates to a hearty crunch. Quinoa, kamut, spelt and amaranth as well as flax seed have become grains of choice for healthy-chip and -cracker processors.

One measure of this acceptance is the presence of the whole grain stamp that now can be found on more than 5,000 products, according to stamp creator Oldways (www.oldwayspt.org), Boston, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting healthier eating patterns.

An unusual outgrowth of this is the availability of whole-grain nutrition without whole-grain taste. Cargill has developed savory snack crisp clusters, featuring fibrous portions of the grain called the aleurone, a layer surrounding the endosperm, or the starchy part of the grain. Aleurone contains about 30 percent of the grain's proteins, including beneficial pigments such as anthocyanins.

"Barliv Crisp and GrainWise Wheat Aleurone deliver a heart-healthy, fiber-rich snack [ingredient] that qualifies for a front-of-package claim," says Daly.

One of the most ancient grains is a common one: oats. Not typically considered a savory candidate, Edinburgh, Scotland, cookie and biscuit maker Nairn's Oatcakes (www.nairns-oatcakes.com) recently began offering savory versions of its oat snacks, such as Herb & Pumpkin, on this side of the pond.

San Diego-based Granola Flats (www.granolaflats.com) takes a standard concept of oat and nut base to create flat little squares in flavors savory, sweet and the growing trend of both. Plus, they're whole grain.

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