Healthier Snacks are a Chip Off the New Block

New oils, less sodium are keys to healthier snacks.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Helping to fuel growth in the global snack foods market, hectic lifestyles have driven consumers away from traditional meals toward quick, convenient foods. A report from Global Industry Analysts (GIA) predicts the global snack food market is likely to be worth $334 billion by 2015.

Although the Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe and Latin American markets are experiencing rapid growth, even the seemingly mature U.S. and Western European markets are poised for greater snack opportunities. Innovative packaging, new flavors and convenience are steamrolling new product development, but the most important driver is healthier snacks – ones with less fat, less sodium and fewer calories -- that still taste great.

U.S. manufacturers are working hard to provide better-for-you snacks. Evidence favoring better-for-you claims in salty snacks is compelling, reports the Lempert Report.

Total salty snacks with organic claims are on a four-year run of sales advances – up 11 percent, 8 percent, 5.5 percent and, in the latest 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, they are up by 3.7 percent to $196.3 million, according to Nielsen Label Trends data for U.S. food stores. Even more impressive, salty snacks with reduced sodium claims had double-digit gains for four consecutive years – up 21 percent, 13.3 percent, 16.3 percent and, in the latest 52 weeks, up 18.4 percent to $265.5 million.

Rethink oils and shortenings
"Today's consumer continues to buy food products motivated by taste, quality, convenience and price," says Roger Daniels, director of research & development at oils supplier Bunge Oils, St. Louis. "Nutrition, wellness, simplified and sustainable are secondary drivers, which seem to be growing in consumer importance. Food processors are tapping into those [latter] demands by taking a closer look at their food ingredients."

Since oils and shortenings are key components of many snack food products, "they are prime ingredient investigation candidates," continues Daniels. "Snack food manufacturers employ oils and shortenings primarily as heat transfer mediums in frying, structure contributors in baked applications and flavor carriers in spray oil snack cracker applications.

"Food manufacturers are interested in how to achieve oils and shortening functionality with increased levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and minimal levels of saturated and trans fatty acids," continues Daniels. "We offer a full line of oil solutions to meet frying and spray oil applications needs. The options are based on soybean oil, canola oil and high-oleic canola oil, which contribute polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fatty acids -- those are viewed by the nutrition sciences community as important to maintaining a nutritionally sound diet."

Bunge also offers technical service and the use of the Bunge Ingredient Innovation Center (BiiC) in Bradley, Ill., to aid snack food product developers. Bunge ingredient options are based on four technologies: RighT patented partial hydrogenation technology (using soybean and cottonseed oils) that reduces trans fats by greater than 80 percent and the sum of trans and saturates by about 33 percent; UltraBlends Designer Solutions (high oleic canola oil and, in the coming year or two, high oleic soybean oils); UltraBlends Enzymatic Solutions (an enzymatic process delivers a trans fat free shortening while optimizing saturates without partial hydrogenation); and NH technology (zero trans fat shortenings based on non-hydrogenated palm oil.

Still in the (oil) pipeline
Most processors already have made their initial move away from trans fats; now they're looking for second-generation solutions.

"Manufacturers have been involved in a conversion from trans fat for a while, and that is what Plenish oil is all about," says Susan Knowlton, senior research manager of Johnston, Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont business.

Plenish is a soy-based trans fat solution targeted at the fast food industry, because of its heavy reliance on frying. "This oil has exceptional stability in frying situations, and it alleviates some of the problems manufacturers encounter when frying oils go bad. It retains its properties very well and remains stable over much longer periods of fry life."

One caveat: Plenish is not widely available yet, and it's not yet in any widely distributed commercial product. DuPont/Pioneer has approvals from FDA and USDA plus Canadian authorities (international approvals are still being solicited), but the specially bred soybean supply is not large enough to support full commercialization. That may come next year.

Frying is an extreme environment, and there are a number of things that happen during frying, Knowlton points out. "There are physical changes that happen to the oil as the result of lack of stability through an oxidation process that occurs. There is a polymer buildup, for example, that causes negative changes to the taste. All these problems can be alleviated if you have oil that is very stable to oxidation.

"That's what hydrogenated oils used to do for the industry. What we've done is create new soybean oil with the same stability as hydrogenated oil but without the consequences of trans fats."

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