Food Companies Putting a New Spin on Formulating Snack Foods

Jan. 6, 2017
Snacks are big business as consumption escalates. New spins on familiar formulations plus category breakers feature clean, free-from and plant-based ingredients as well as snazzy flavors.

As food companies know, many consumers are replacing meals with several snacks throughout the day, reflecting the realities of the times. Time-pressed lifestyles have cut or eliminated prep in the kitchen, though the need for better-for-you options remains strong.

We're snacking more, and more often, not just occasionally. As snacks quickly become a necessity, they require portability, convenient packaging and sustenance to keep us going all day long.

IRI Worldwide ( says this tremendous growth in snacking offers vast opportunities for product developers. What IRI defines as core snacking realized solid growth in 2016, at an increase of 3.4 percent over 2015, though additional snack categories continue to crop up.

"Snacking and mini meals are occurring across the day," notes Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader at IRI. The research firm's 2016 State of the Snack Food Industry report reveals healthier snacks are outpacing indulgent versions. Consumers also favor less processing, sweet and savory snacks and premium ingredients, although Lyons emphasizes the delicate balance between the quest for healthier living and the need for enjoyment.

"Manufacturers must understand where consumers are willing to indulge and focus on developing products that don’t completely derail dietary-improvement efforts," she says.

That's not as easy as it sounds, though formulators are making strides at replacing higher amounts of unhealthy fat, sodium and sugar while increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats and "good" carbohydrates.

Ingredient providers are helping, with new developments of their own. "We found that over 65 percent of snackers agree that protein is important, especially for women," says Mark Rainey, vice president of global food marketing at Archer Daniels Midland (, Chicago.

"Plant-based proteins add important health and wellness components to the snacking experience, so there’s a real opportunity here for food formulators to leverage plant-based protein in snack foods."

ADM’s protein experts are helping food formulators develop great-tasting, plant-based and high-protein foods and snacks, Rainey says.

"Plant-based foods — especially plant-based proteins — will continue to be popular among consumers as demand for high-protein products continues," he adds. Plants are also recognized as a more sustainable source of protein.

A savory hummus-filled protein-based snack with clean ingredients debuted in September 2016 from the Modern Pod Co. (, Providence, R.I. Hummus Pods hand-held snacks feature a dollop of chickpea hummus encased in a crispy, chewy, baked multigrain crust, topped with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned. The pods are vegan and non-GMO and include Smoky Chipotle, Sriracha Lime and Zesty Lemon flavors. The pre-baked, flash-frozen items are easily warmed in the microwave or oven. Three pods constitute a serving that has 160 calories, 6g of both fat and protein and 3g of fiber.

"Hummus Pods are on-the-go snacks, killer appetizers, salad soulmates and lunch box heroes – they’re amazingly versatile," says product developer/design Erica Pernice. "The humus category is ready for a shakeup," adds Stephanie Gladstone, vice president of sales. "Hummus is widely popular, but consumers crave new forms, new flavor profiles and new experiences."

Farmer's Pantry, New York, has combined a meal and a snack in one with its Farmer's Pantry Meal Snacks (, comprising slow-cooked beef, chicken or turkey, proprietary spices and crunchy vegetables in a double-pouched (double-layer) bag. Developed as an option to other savory snacks like trail mix and jerky, Farmer's Pantry drew inspiration from American recipes such as herb roasted turkey with veggies, cranberries and stuffing, flame-grilled chicken with slow roasted corn, chicken with vegetables and mesquite BBQ beef with roasted corn and tomatoes.

Treats from the sea

An annual culinary report from Sterling-Rice Group (, Boulder, Colo., says canned sardines are making a comeback because they're low in calories, high in calcium and protein and rich in omega-3. That may or may not come true, but Americans are looking seaward for healthier snacking.

Seaweed snacks are attractive because they're nearly fat-free, low in calories and a rich source of minerals found in the ocean. Chomperz from SeaSnax (www.seasnaxcom), Los Angeles, are nutrient-packed roasted seaweed sheets seasoned with organic extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. The snacks are vegan, gluten-free and Non-GMO Project verified, and the seaweed is sustainably grown and organic, says founder Jin Jun.

Seaweed is a staple in traditional Asian snacking, Jun adds. Founded by Jun in 2011 for her daughter who loves seaweed, SeaSnax are not "loaded with the salt, corn oil and MSG typical of the varieties sold in Asian markets," she says. They're doing well in sales, and by the end of its first year on the market, SeaSnax was stocked in 600 stores nationwide. "I was naive and passionate because I knew I had something that was healthy, good quality and something I felt good about and wanted to share with the rest of the world."

Another successful seaweed snack line comes from Annie Chun's (, which offers organic, vegan, gluten-free roasted seaweed snacks in several varieties. Seaweed or nori contains up to 20 times the mineral concentration of land plants, according to the San Rafael, Calif.-based company, which roasts sheets of nori for crunch and flavor and seasons it with a dash of salt and sesame seed oil. Annie Chun's expanded in August 2016 with gluten-free brown-rice seaweed crisps that are also low-calorie and high in iron, fiber and vitamins A, B and C.

Twists on pretzels, popcorn

Pretzel makers believe 2017 could be a standout year of innovations, from gluten-free and lower-fat options to seasonal, savory, salty and no-salt choices. Pretzels from Good Health Snacks (, Greensboro, N.C., incorporate vegetables and unique flavors. Made with quality, nutritious ingredients, the recently unveiled Veggie Pretzels are one of several gluten-free, organic and non-GMO snacks in Good Health's lineup. Dusted with Himalayan salt, the pretzels feature whole grains, herbs and even sustainable bamboo fiber to enhance the crispy texture.

Popcorn still holds a small piece of the U.S. salty snack market, but has been growing in each of the past three years, according to Euromonitor, mainly because of its healthy connotations. There are a few new twists.

New Pop's "skinless" popcorn from a New York City-based company by the same name ( claims it will change the industry. Made in Brazil with what company cofounder Victor Bauer says are simple ingredients, New Pop starts with corn kernels processed to remove the skins before the corn is popped. This makes for enjoyable snacking that's easier on the teeth, and creates a great tasting, guilt-free snack.

High pressure instead of heat is used to pop the kernels, keeping the nutrients intact. New Pop contains no oils, salt or butter, but is high in fiber, has zero fat and has a tiny 32 calories per cup. Non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan, New Pop is available in Original, Hot & Sweet and Sweet Cinnamon flavors. "We're excited to be creating 'a new snack [sub]category'," says Bauer.

Similarly, the Little Kernel (, Manalapan N.J., offers six varieties of pre-popped popcorn with tiny kernels about half the size of conventional popcorn. Suitable for kids, the petite kernels are sweet, crunchy and won’t get stuck in kids' teeth, according to the company. Launched last May, the gluten- and dairy-free popcorn is non-GMO and popped in olive oil. It comes in Naked, Truffle Sea Salt, Sweet and Salty Kettle, Pink Himalayan Salt, Butter and White Cheddar.

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