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.
The 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.