The Process of Processing a Healthy Savory Snack

May 19, 2009
So just how does one go about creating a line of healthy, savory snacks?

For the answer to our question, "so just how does one go about creating a line of healthy, savory snacks?," we visited the doctor — Dr. Kracker that is, a.k.a. George Eckrich, owner of flatbread and cracker makers Kracker Enterprises LLC, Dallas. “Much of our development works has its inspiration in my frequent trips doing demos in the stores of our retailers,” says Eckrich. “By doing demos myself, I hear directly what customers say, what they are thinking and how they react to Dr. Kracker — plus I can watch what customers are buying from the cracker aisle.”

Snacks and Health

Healthy snacks are still important to consumers. In a study published just last August, researchers at the University of Liverpool, England, investigated the potential impact small changes in snacking behavior can have on mortality from cardiovascular disease. They determined substituting one “healthy” snack per day would reduce saturated fat intake by approximately 4.4g per person per day, resulting in approximately 2,400 fewer cardiac deaths and 425 fewer stroke deaths per year.

The researchers further concluded that by “replacing one unhealthy snack with one healthy snack per day might prevent approximately 6,000 cardiovascular deaths every year” in the U.K. How much more so for North America?

From such first-hand surveying, Eckrich has learned that “baby boomers in particular enjoy the flavor of whole grains and seeds, but want a cracker that is not as hard. The challenge of aging teeth is a reality.” Eckrich discovered the 55-and-up age group is the demographic most supporting the shift to whole grains. “This fact cannot be ignored if we want to continue our 20 percent rate of growth,” he cautions.

Challenges described by Eckrich on developing a recent new product line included shelf life and organic status. “This meant we had to reconsider our toppings,” he explains. “Since sunflower seeds are the most delicate with regard to rancidity, we decided not to use it as a topping” in some new formulations. While previous products have been organic, cost became a factor “when sourcing the new ingredients we were considering, such as sun dried tomatoes, freeze dried apples and sweet potatoes.” The company gave up the USDA organic emblem, but maintains an all-natural claim. “We would remain true to our core value of supporting organic grain and see farmers.”

Eckrich then went through a “long, iterative process” of test baking. “Out of this, we got four new products that match emerging taste trends, but more importantly, they are trends that we believe will continue for some time. Black sesame seeds, lemon flavor, garlic flavor, coriander, apples and oats, semolina and sour cherries and a dot of chili pepper.” The four new Dr. Kracker flavors about to launch include savory, sweet and combinations of the two: Apple Crisp, Fire Roasted Crisp, Hummus Maximus and Cherry Semolina.

Savory Flavor Trends

“Latin-influenced snacks are becoming more popular given Americans’ love of variety and spice, with salsa proving to be a great area for flavor innovation,” says Sean Craig, senior executive chef for Gilroy Foods & Flavors, Omaha, Neb. “According to Mintel, in the past year the U.S. saw 136 new salsa product introductions. As consumer tastes in chilies mature, they are looking for spice and flavor in new snack products.”

Some recent chili-laced snack introductions Craig cites include: Doritos Poppin’ Jalapeño tortilla chips and Collisions Zesty Taco and Chipotle Ranch chips, San Joaquin Valley Farms All-Natural Chile-Lemon California Pistachios, Central Market Organics Hatch Green Chile Tortilla Chips, and Earthharvest Pumpkin Organic Shelled Adobo-Chile Pumpkin Seeds.

Over at Gilroy Foods & Flavors, Omaha, Neb., senior executive chef Sean Craig says, “The first step we take with customers is to determine what their target consumer wants in ‘healthy.’ When developing a topical seasoning blend for a baked chip, for example, it not only needs to taste right, but it must adhere to a low-fat chip surface. When creating snacks with a healthy-halo such as ‘natural,’ we determine whether blending flavor into the mix rather than topically is the best solution. Considerations such as vegetable particulate size for ingredients like garlic or parsley can offer a more rustic appeal and can be marketed as gourmet. We insist on taking the customer’s entire product formulation and lifecycle into consideration to ensure we're offering the ideal savory flavor solution.”

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