Snacks Can Be Healthy – For Consumers and Processors

With snacks replacing traditional meals, this huge category warrants marketing, product development and manufacturing interest.

By Food Processing Staff

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It's getting difficult to define "snacks." As they continue to replace traditional meals, the category has gotten so all-encompassing that it's almost synonymous with "grocery."

Between that and the maturity of the category, growth is slowing. Snacks are no longer the holy grail they were two years ago, when they were pursued by all large, multi-category food companies.

The Sprawling Snack CategorNevertheless, in the waning days of 2017, two significant acquisitions took place in this space. Campbell Soup got its toes wet in the space with the $4.9 billion purchase of chip-and-pretzel maker Snyder's-Lance. Hershey Co., with lots of sales in the candy part of the category plus a 2015 beef jerky acquisition, bought Amplify Brands, maker of SkinnyPop and other snacks. A month earlier, Mars Inc. made an equity investment in No. 3 snack bar maker Kind LLC—which, despite not changing its corporate name, has been referring to itself as Kind Healthy Snacks.

Still, as Nielsen defines it (see graphic) snacks is a $93 billion category. An interesting sub-category, according to Nielsen, is single-serve snacks, a category that saw $33 billion in sales in 2017. Annual household spending on these grab-and-go products increased 1.1 percent to $133 per household; but more importantly almost every household (98 percent) in the U.S. purchased these items at least once for quick and convenient consumption. Busy households buy them almost twice monthly (22.3 times per year) across categories, says Nielsen. Large families—specifically with five or more members—index the highest out of all household groups, purchasing 16 percent more individually packaged snacks than the average family.

Even meat snacks, which have been enjoying 7 percent annual growth rates for the past four years, appeared headed for half that rate in 2017.

Jerky and meat snacks, like the protein-packed cuts of preservative-free meats from Jack Link's Lorissa's Kitchen's (, cater to the growing snack-as-mini-meal trend, as well as the lingering interest in protein. Hormel's new Natural Choice snacks in four varieties combine cheese cubes, ham, roasted chicken or turkey and dark chocolate-covered pretzels, nuts or blueberries, for a small indulgence. "Our 100-percent natural deli meat is now available in a convenient, portion-controlled option, coupled with a sweet treat, attributes our wellness-seeking consumers have long been craving." says Andrew Quinn, brand manager at Hormel Foods (

Jerky plus nuts and even dried fruit are mixed into PowerBar's ( new Jerky & Nut savory snack bars, each of which packs 10g of protein into original, barbecue and teriyaki varieties.

Consumers still appear to want healthier snacks. Plant ingredients figure prominently, with rediscovered plant protein sources showing up in chips, such as Beanitos, which forges pinto and black beans into chips, Plentils lentil-based chips from Enjoy Life Foods and Hippeas organic chickpea puffs.

Some more traditional plants – we're talking cherries, mangoes and apples – are the sole ingredients (with no added sugars) in Kind's Fruit Bites, which were launched last year. The company also debuted Pressed by Kind bars with only fruit and vegetables or chia seeds.

Non-GMO snacks are especially popular, with an 18.2 percent sales hike in each of the past five years, followed by snacks free from artificial colors/flavors (up 16.2 percent) and no-/reduced-sugar claims (up 11.3 percent), according to Nielsen.

Farm OvenBakery BitesFarm & Oven Snacks ( has managed to sneak veggies and probiotics into tasty baked cookies. New Bakery Bites, in flavors such as chocolate beet dark chocolate, zucchini lemon poppy seed, carrot cinnamon and pumpkin maple pecan, contain 40 percent of the recommended serving of daily vegetables and 1 billion probiotics per package. "None of my three kids likes veggies," says Kay Allison, bakery co-founder. "So, when my son begged for my pumpkin bread, I added more pumpkin as a way to get him to eat a few more veggies."

While interest in simple, wholesome snacks is up, consumers still make room for indulgent treats. "Consumers talk about eating healthy as a presentation of their best selves and their aspirations, but in reality, they simply want something that tastes good," said Jeanine Bassett, General Mills' vice president of global consumer insights.

Nuts and seeds

Perennial favorites snack mixes and nuts have a "health halo," are portable and come in numerous on-the-go varieties. Over the past year, consumers have asked for exotic, innovative flavors and options with a bit of indulgence.

PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division ( is launching new Doritos Crunch Nuts and Crunch Mix, portable peanut-based snacks in handy on-the-go standup pouches. Frito-Lay is also making its snacks healthier while balancing flavor and nutrition in new items like Simply Tostitos Black Bean tortilla chips, which incorporate legumes, pulses, 4g of protein and 5g of fiber per serving.

Texture is in, as companies like General Mills ( are using it in new ways. Its new Nature Valley Layered Bars blend three textures, including layers of crunchy granola, nuts and creamy chocolate and a choice of almond butter or peanut butter.

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