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Processors Slip Health Into Treats for the Holidays

While the holidays are time for a little indulging, some processors are managing to slip in a bit of health and nutrition into seasonal foods.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

The busy holiday season is a time for celebrations, gatherings of family and friends and entertaining, and maybe a little indulging. But can holiday treats be yummy and healthy?

Healthy holiday food sounds like an oxymoron, but this year, there's more emphasis on total wellness, moderation and clean ingredients. People are also allowing themselves to enjoy smaller treats, and that means processors must accommodate these needs, yet still make holiday foods tasty to stay competitive.

That's one of the biggest challenges, says Angelina De Castro, senior marketing manager at Ingredion, Bridgewater, N.J. "Clean label foods must deliver the taste and texture consumers are accustomed to eating. That means ingredients used in clean label [and other healthy] formulations need to be robust, delivering functionality equivalent to conventional ingredients."

The trends favor fresh foods and ingredients, foods produced naturally and foods that are locally sourced, says Packaged Facts. "The bottom line is that health trends are moving away from being diet-focused and more toward adopting healthier lifestyles," says David Sprinkle, research director at the Rockville, Md., firm. "This means that associating healthy with low-calorie, low-fat and/or low-carb foods is no longer the ideal. With increased knowledge of food sourcing and manufacturing practices, food marketers have increasingly focused on foods that are inherently healthy."

Most helpful are ingredients that "can reduce calories, lower sugar or are healthier than the original recipes, and maintain taste, texture and an indulgent experience," says Santiago Vega, senior manager of nutrition marketing at Ingredion. And he lists among his company's products ingredients such as fiber, gums, vegetable proteins, starches and stevia.

Vega also notes resistant starch, a natural dietary fiber, can replace up to 20 percent of the flour in brownies, cookies, muffins and other baked goods to deliver lower calories and added fiber. Soluble fiber can add fiber and reduce sugar and calories in sweet baked goods or holiday beverages, such as eggnog. Vegetable proteins can help formulators create cookies, muffins and other treats that are gluten-free and/or have fewer eggs and less fat and calories while delivering added protein. "Consumers look for holiday treats they can feel good about and avoid guilt," he adds.

Smaller portions, simpler ingredients

In some cases, portion sizes are being scaled back with bite-sized and "mini" desserts, appetizers and entree servings. Other favorite holiday foods are being updated with more nutritious ingredients, fewer artificial ingredients and lower sugar/sodium content.

Even Hershey's Holiday Kisses and milk chocolate bars are being relaunched with "simple ingredients," such as the milk chocolate now made with real vanilla instead of an artificial flavor. The change is the first part of Hershey Co.'s previously announced plans to use simpler ingredients.

Noosa Pumpkin YogurtThe Hershey, Pa., company says the updated chocolates started shipping in early November. Shoppers will see "natural flavor" on the ingredients list instead of vanillin − previously used to give the chocolates their vanilla flavor − and no artificial flavors.

Yogurt seems to be a common vehicle for seasonal flavors. Noosa Yoghurt LLC, Bellvue, Colo., maker of Australian-style yogurt, has temporarily added Cranberry Apple and Pumpkin flavors to its lineup. The two flavors also can be used in desserts and other recipes.

Five years after debuting in the U.S., Noosa is on course to generate $100 million in sales this year, it reports. Its full-fat yogurt, named after the Aussie region its recipe hails from, is made in small batches with whole milk, probiotics, honey for a sweetener and fruit purées. More than a dozen tasty flavors are produced in Colorado with milk from family-owned dairy farms.

Likewise, General Mills' Yoplait in September brought back four seasonal, limited-edition flavors nationwide, including Yoplait Original Apple Crisp, Yoplait Light Pumpkin Pie, Yoplait Greek 100 Caramel Apple and Yoplait Greek 100 Whips! Pumpkin Cheesecake.
The seasonal flavors have become fan favorites, affirms Susan Pitt, marketing manager for Yoplait. "We know Yoplait fans love our fall-inspired flavors. This year, we brought back our seasonal line of yogurt in the fall flavors consumers love most."

Also on a pumpkin track is Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., with its limited-edition Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini Wheats. The 100-percent whole-grain cereal provides a good source of fiber (42g), 190 calories per serving (about 25 biscuits) and 9g of protein without sodium or saturated fat and.

Chuao Caramel Apple CrushCaramel apple is the flavor of Chuao Chocolatier's newest chocolate bar for the holidays. The Venezuelan company, with a U.S. beachhead in Carlsbad, Calif., says the Caramel Apple Crush bars incorporate tangy green apple pieces and buttery caramel in a rich blend of premium milk chocolate. Not for everyday perhaps, but the company offers gift set minis, with each mini bar having 50 to 60 calories.

Creative Snacks Co.'s Apple Cider yogurt pretzels have several trends going for them: crunch; a sweet yogurt coating and apple cider, one of holiday's top flavors. The limited-edition, "feel good" snacks, as they're described on the 9-oz. bags, have sold so well their availability may be spotty in most areas, notes Jeff Soucy, marketing coordinator at the Greensboro, N.C., company. Creative Snacks (creativesnacks.com) says it produces snacks the owners' kids would like and anyone can feel good about eating.

One flavorful new holiday treat that's indulgent but can be sliced in "slim" portions is Marie Callender's new Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Pie, a seasonal favorite with a spicy twist. With a flaky pastry crust, real pumpkin, seasonal spices and toasted pecans, the frozen pie has a creamy texture and a nutty, crunchy pecan streusel topping for a festive finish to any occasion, explains Christiane Brocky, vice president and general manager of ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb. A slice has approximately 300 calories.

Everything in moderation still applies for many celebrations, notes Pam Stauffer, Cargill's global marketing manager. "If you can indulge and save a few calories along the way, all the merrier. We work on reduced-sugar and reduced-calorie innovations, and expect demand for innovation in this area to continue growing."

Snacks and drinks

The holidays bring parties, potlucks and gatherings galore, all of which work well with a few savory snacks. Frito-Lay's Rold Gold brand can perk up the party with the return of its limited-edition Rold Gold Holiday Dipped Pretzels. On the sweeter side, the crispy snack comes in Classic Dipped Tiny Twists; Dark Dipped Bavarian Twists; Peppermint Dipped Snowflakes; and White Dipped Honey Braided.

RoldGoldHolidayDippedPretzels"During the busiest time of the year, finding something unique to bring as a party snack or gift can be a struggle," says Ryan Matiyow, senior director of marketing, at Frito-Lay, Plano, Tex. "Rold Gold Holiday Dipped Pretzels will surprise and delight the party with one flavor-filled bag."

Flavored coffees and coffee creamers are obviously available year-round, but their numbers seem to swell at the holidays (maybe it's the colder weather). WhiteWave Foods' International Delight brand of coffee creamers celebrates the season with Frosted Sugar Cookie, Peppermint Mocha, White Chocolate Raspberry and Pumpkin Pie Spice – the last available in a fat-free/sugar-free version. As the Denver-based company says, "Life’s too short to drink ordinary coffee."

Bailey's Coffee Creamers, something consumers often splurge on for holiday gatherings, rolled out its seasonal flavors for a limited time: Frosted Vanilla Cookie, White Chocolate Peppermint Bark and Pumpkin Spice are back by popular demand. The seasonal group comes in pint and quart containers.

"The versatility of Baileys Coffee Creamers allows consumers to enjoy the delicious flavors of the holiday season in a number of ways — whether in their coffee or tea or in baking their favorite treats," says Lynne Bohan, spokesperson for HP Hood LLC, licensee of the non–alcoholic Baileys Coffee Creamers. "Our seasonal flavors are the perfect way to celebrate the warm memories this time of year brings all day long."

A limited-edition milk beverage, TruMoo Mint Vanilla low-fat milk from Dean Foods Co., El Paso Tex., is a one-percent milk option for the winter holidays in half-gallon plastic jugs. First launched in 2011, TruMoo flavored milks have grown into one of the country's largest flavored milk brands. An 8-oz. serving of Mint Vanilla contains 130 calories, 2.5g of fat, 18g of sugar and 8g of protein.

Starbuck Coffee Co.'s convenient ready-to-drink Frappuccino bottled coffee drinks, which turn 20 years old next year, are now available in Gingerbread, a spicy combination of the signature Frappuccino roast coffee, gingerbread flavored syrup and ground nutmeg. Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha has a deep, dark chocolate flavor  and a minty bite just strong enough to cut through the chocolate. The Seattle-based company says the drinks have 100-210 calories per 9.5-oz. bottle, so it's easy to get into the holiday spirit without much sacrifice.

Even with better-for-you or healthier foods, taste is still king, Stauffer points out. Though the holidays often mean indulgence, consumers can still enjoy the flavors of the season with foods and beverages that can help keep calories in check.