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Snacks: Replacing Meals, Improving Moods

May 3, 2022
If snack trends have taught us anything into 2022, 'spoiling your dinner' is not always a bad thing. We run down some of the more recent trends in food and beverage.

Did your parents warn that too much snacking would ruin your appetite for dinner? Well, that evidently is precisely what many of today’s consumers hope happens when they snack -- they eat snacks as meal replacements.

“We have seen more consumers focus on ongoing snacking throughout the day instead of meals,” notes Candace Cage, Land O’Frost's (www.landofrost.com) brand manager for Gone Rogue Snacks.

“Many studies have shown this shift stemmed from consumer habits during the pandemic. Now as the restrictions begin to loosen and more consumers feel comfortable returning to their pre-pandemic habits (going to the gym, the office, etc.) they need something that gives them balance between indulgence and good for you, tasty and nutritional, satisfying and simple.”

You probably also have heard that snacking isn’t wise when you’re depressed or otherwise upset, because it’s too easy to pack on the calories. But, just like mom’s advice regarding your dinner appetite, this advice is often disregarded. Many consumers enjoy snacks as bona fide mood enhancers these days.

“In many scenarios, a healthy snack can do more for the mood than anything else,” says Anthony Puopolo, chief medical officer at RexMD. “Getting a high amount of vitamin C and vitamin D throughout the day can help your body better produce things like serotonin, dopamine and melatonin, which are all mood enhancers.”

Both trends – snacks as meal replacements and as mood enhancers – are helping snack manufacturers strengthen sales.

Snacks as meal replacements

Naturally, eating enough volume of any kind of snack could theoretically make it a “meal replacement.” Snacks with a lot of protein – whether from plants or meat and dairy ingredients -- and fiber are what consumers seek when they want to replace meals.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, which translates to about 64g of protein for a 175-lb. person. The RDA of fiber for adults up to age 50 is 25g for women and 38g for men.

Snacks with high protein and fiber content don’t approach those numbers, but they can make a dent in the daily quantity, and countless snacks like those have been introduced in the past few years.

For example, Probar offers a line of bars that are called “Meal On-the-Go” that contain 10 or 11g of protein and 6g of fiber. The Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip variety gets its protein content from peanuts, sunflower seeds, brown rice, flax seeds and sesame seeds and its fiber from those ingredients plus oats and dates.

“These bars provide balanced and long-lasting energy when you don’t have time to prepare a healthy meal from scratch,” the company’s website touts.

An example of a potentially meal-replacing snack that uses meat as its protein is Gone Rogue All-Natural Turkey Bites, which Land O’Frost created with high-protein diets in mind.

“When developing All-Natural Turkey Bites, our goal was to create a snack that had a clean label to support our consumers’ lifestyles — many are focused on keto and paleo diets— and they want something that will never slow them down,” Cage says.

“With this in mind, we focused more on what a purposeful protein seeker would need to sustain energy while on the move all day without sacrificing flavor," she continues. "We found a strong balance between delicious and health-focused snacks. Each 1-oz. bag provides 10g of protein per serving and is low on carbs (less than 4g), sugar (less than 3g) and calories.”

Milk is another potential source of protein. NZMP offers dairy proteins to food processors creating snacks in a wide variety of formats.

“Dairy protein has fantastic nutritional and functional qualities, so it works well in meal replacement snacks, whether of the chewable or drinkable variety, as a core component on which to layer other nutrition -- e.g., vitamins and minerals, fiber and perhaps some hidden fruit and vegetables and/or functional components,” says Rachel Marshall, technical engagement manager for NZMP.

“NZMP’s range includes specialty solutions for high protein bars that deliver great taste and a soft texture with excellent protein nutrition, including indulgent soft and fluffy, or gooey caramel type textures more akin to candy bars than nutrition bars. NZMP’s heat-stable protein solutions such as whey protein concentrate 550 and 515 can be used to enhance protein levels in baked goods such as cookies, pancakes, brownies and even puddings, to make them nutritionally permissible while maintaining their indulgent taste and texture.”

Snacks as mood enhancers

Eating to make oneself feel better is certainly not a new idea, but the concept of snacks as mood enhancers is on-trend. Some snacks incorporate subtle mood enhancers such as dark chocolate while others go for the heavy hitting enhancers such as CBD.

Tracy DeCarlo, director of category solutions brand development at Daymon, says private label brands have been innovating in this space.

“We are seeing private brands begin to introduce individualized health and mood-enhancing callouts, including ‘promotes positive mood,’ stress relief, calming, relaxation, or ‘has adaptogen properties’ on packaging,” DeCarlos says.

“These callouts have increased with consumers taking a more proactive approach to managing health concerns, with 80% of consumers focusing on what they consume as part of self-care," she continues. "The trend of individualized health and calling out functional or mood-enhancing benefits in packaged goods has no indication of slowing down.”

One of the best-documented ingredients for mood enhancement that often finds its way into snacks are blueberries. A 2020 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating wild blueberries for four weeks helped the mood of the teenagers in the study. “Following the intervention period, there were significantly fewer self-reported depression symptoms in participants who were supplemented with WBB [wild blueberries] compared with placebo,” the report concluded.

“It’s been shown that the antioxidant properties (polyphenols and anthocyanins) in wild blueberries are mood-enhancing and cognition-aiding for people of all ages,” says Kelsey Matheson, a spokesperson for the Wild Blueberry Assn. of North America. “Those properties are found in darkly colored fruits and vegetables - e.g., wild blueberries."

Matheson adds that the format of the blueberry – fresh, frozen or dried – evidently does not affect its nutritional value. All formats contain the key antioxidants, such polyphenols and anthocyanins.

An even more common ingredient in snacks that affects mood is dark chocolate. Many studies have shown that dark chocolate is effective in reducing depression. For example, a 2019 study published in the journal Depression & Anxiety examined data from 13,626 adults participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It found that those who had consumed dark chocolate in the previous 24 hours showed “significantly lower odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.”

Today food manufacturers also are experimenting with more potentially powerful mood-enhancing snack ingredients, such as cannabidiol. The anxiety-relieving capabilities of CBD have been studied and the conclusions are persuasive: “Overall, existing preclinical evidence strongly supports the potential of CBD as a treatment for anxiety disorders,” was the finding of a 2015 study reported in the journal Neurotherapeutics.

There is no shortage of CBD-infused snacks on the market, ranging from Velobar CBD Protein Bar, which contains 25mg of the key ingredient, to We Be Pop’n Kana Korn popcorn, which contains 125mg of CBD per 2.2 oz bag.

Trends continue

The twin trends of snacks as meal replacements and snacks as mood enhancers evidently have lots of life ahead of them.

A 2019 study by Mondelez International and Harris Insights found that 76% of people eat snacks to boost their mood, but that number jumped to 84% for millennials. Assuming millennials continue their snacking habits as they age and younger generations take up the habit, eating snacks to enhance mood should continue trending.

Similarly, a 2021 follow-up to that study revealed that 64% of all adults replace one meal a day with a snack, a figure that jumps to 75% for Gen Z.

Both trends speak to increased sales for snacks – especially those that mimic meals or include mood-enhancing ingredients – for years to come.

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