AT FIRST GLANCE, IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE THE SAME OLD AISLE. But something snackworthy is going on: Mixed in with the regular chips and pretzels are packages labeled with “Sensible Snacking” or “Smart Spot” logos. They're making consumers stop and do a bit more reading about products with better nutritional profiles.
In most supermarkets, the snack category takes up both sides of the aisle with an infinite number of shapes, flavors and textures. It's still dominated by indulgence, but many snack makers are being rewarded with higher sales by reformulating old favorites and introducing products with no trans fats, and less saturated fats and sodium. Retailers are taking note.
“The whole healthy food segment is a good performer at our stores,” said Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets.
A number of factors are driving sales of healthful snacks, and not all of them have to do with wellness. Hectic lifestyles and demanding work schedules are moving Americans away from traditional meals and giving way to more snacking. Daniel Bone, consumer markets analyst at research firm Datamonitor, said that snacking has become so ingrained in America's eating habits that it's become a way of life rather than a trend.
“Americans are skipping breakfast and lunch like never before. This creates nutritional sustenance needs that consumers satisfy by snacking between meals,” Bone said.
The typical American consumer eats 231 morning snacks, 283 afternoon snacks and 261 evening snacks a year, according to a new Datamonitor study. They appear to be moving more toward health, too. Researchers expect growth of the traditional snack segment to slow as it gets redefined by new and healthful alternatives. From 2000 to 2005, the combined sales of the confectionery and savory snack markets grew 15% to $45.6 billion. But growth over the next five years is forecast at around 4% a year, Bone said.
Whatever the growth rate, consumers have latched onto the idea of portion control, particularly in the snack category. It began with a trickle and now the products are flowing in all directions with introductions in salty snacks, cookies, crackers, candy, soda and snack bars.
According to Datamonitor's Productscan, nine portion-control food products and beverages were introduced in 2003. By 2005, the number of launches jumped to 33. Through October of this year, 43 100-calorie product packs were introduced. Add to that 10 more items with calorie counts of between 80 and 140. And more will be coming.
One of the earliest lines, Nabisco's 100 Calorie Packs, is built on new versions of its classics from Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Honey Maid, Cheese Nips and Ritz. Last year it added Planters Peanut Butter Cookie Crisps and earlier this year a Ritz Chip and Wheat Thins Multigrain Chip was introduced. The retail price for a box of six is $2.79. The next new item coming is a variety pack offering 12 bags.
After less than a year on the market, the Nabisco collection garnered sales of $100 million.
“We believe Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs is a great example of a product that was really driven by great consumer input,” said Laurie Guzzinati, senior manager, corporate and government affairs for Nabisco's parent, Kraft Foods. “It delivers on the need for consumers to have great-tasting snacks that help them stay true to their personal health and wellness goals.”
It offers convenience and takes “the guesswork out of counting calories,” she added.
In market tests, the company learned that people liked smaller pieces so that the snack would last longer. “Consumers also commented that they were surprised at how much they get for 100 calories,” Guzzinati said.
This spring, Frito-Lay unveiled its 100 Calorie Mini Bites line that includes Baked! Cheetos, Doritos Nacho Cheese, Doritos Cool Ranch, Cheetos Asteroid and SunChips snacks. The packs contain original flavors but are resized in small pieces. The suggested retail price for a five-pack box is $1.99.
Kellogg's has jumped into the market with its Right Bites assortment with three varieties of Keebler cookies and Sunshine Cheez-It crackers. Meanwhile, Pepperidge Farm offers 100-calorie packages of its popular Goldfish crackers.
The pretzel and popcorn segments are also getting on board with entrants such as Orville Redenbacher's 100 Calorie Microwave Mini Bag, a Pop Secret 100-calorie item and pretzel packs from Snyder's of Hanover.
Kellogg's Special K has a 90-calorie cereal bar and now there are South Beach Diet 100 Calorie snack bars. Add to that Cadbury Thins Candy bars, and Coca-Cola Classic and Sprite in 100-calorie cans. Hershey and Nestlé have introduced candy sticks in various flavors in 100-calorie portions.
Julie Bishop, manager of wellness products and services for Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., said the chain's shoppers have embraced the concept.
“If one of your things is eating out at lunchtime, they fit in nicely into a bag lunch,” she said.
Select units of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee included 100-calorie pack snacks in stores' back-to-school displays along with signs that promoted them as a lunch box item or as an afternoon snack.
“It is hard to predict [the growth] of any type of food choice,” said Hy-Vee spokeswoman Chris Friesleben, “but the trend toward 100-calorie snacks is very popular. We do have quite a number of different varieties.”
At the Phoenix-based Bashas' chain, the 100-calorie packs are doing well and growth is expected to continue, “as long as they do not get too expensive,” said grocery buyer Bill Terry.
To make room for the new players, Bashas' has reduced items and facings of regular in-line items. “We are expanding space for them as the category grows,” Terry said.
Manufacturers like the Lesser Evil Snack Co., Tuckahoe, N.Y., went to market specifically with a healthful snack message. It uses natural ingredients and stays away from preservatives, trans fatty acids and high-fructose corn syrup. It currently offers five flavors of kettle popcorn, and is considering the launch of a new snack line sometime next year.
Tom Brown, head snackmaster, says the company's philosophy is to “lead with taste and follow with health so the product sounds like it is going to taste good and will be a little better as well.” Snack foods, he added, “should be joyful and fun.”
Lisa Katic, a registered dietitian and nutritional consultant for the Snack Food Association, Arlington, Va., expects snack food manufacturers to continue to look for ways to improve the ingredient composition of their products.
“People are looking at different blends of oils such as cottonseed or soy to bring the fatty-acid profile into a better light,” she said. “Members are also looking to add ingredients such as whole grains or tomato or fruits to boost the [nutritional] benefits.”
That's what Frito-Lay did. The nation's largest salty snack maker began making Lays potato chips, its best-selling brand with $2 billion in annual sales, with sunflower oil. According to the company, the conversion from the fattier cottonseed oil means about 60 million pounds of saturated fat will be eliminated from the American diet.
Additionally, Frito-Lay, like many other snack manufacturers, has removed trans fats from products, which along with saturated fats that are said to be among the worst components of snack foods. Many companies made the move even before the federal government began requiring manufacturers to list trans fat content on all Nutrition Facts panels.
Katic believes initiatives like the 100-calorie packs show how the industry can respond to consumer demands and desires, by providing a vehicle for portion control that doesn't require a lot of thinking: One bag is it.
“I think people can feel better about it,” she said. “Usually when they snack they have no idea what they just ate.”
Total number of snacks consumed per person in 2005, by age
- Leverage the upcoming holidays to get shoppers thinking about their diets and healthful snacks.
- Snackers are extremely brand loyal, so consider integrating healthful options with conventional choice for potential trial.
- If healthful snack SKUs comprise 30% or more of the aisle, analyze the benefits of reorganizing planograms.