The return of out-of-home snacks, the rise of protein fortification and healthy indulgence

20 Apr 2022 — As COVID-19 accelerated demand for snacking, opportunities for innovation in an attempt to meet evolving consumer demands is seeing an uptick. Ranging from nutritious snack products, international flavors and functional ingredients, the space is booming prompting  accelerated NPD. 

“As an ever-popular and growing category, the snacking space is seeing increased competition that is challenging brands to offer a nexus of nutrition benefits and new sensory experiences,” Harbinder Maan, associate director, trade marketing and stewardship, Almond Board of California, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Flavor, in particular, is a key driver of consumption and innovation, Maan underscores. “Snack products are leveraging almonds to unlock novel flavors and textures, formats that fit on-the-go lifestyles, and functional benefits that answer consumers’ wellness needs.” 

Stressful lifestyles are leading consumers to increasingly seek out snacks with mood benefits.Lockdowns and snacks
Initially the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden lockdowns and home-working shifts led to an uptick in snacking. But this is waning now as society at large returns to normal.

Despite the uptake of in-home snacking, as society emerges from lockdowns and movement restrictions appear to be left behind, there has been a clear decline in snacking at home, David Deeley, insights manager at Kerry, observes. 

“However, rather than resulting in a total decline in snacking, as consumers have returned to busier lives, both professional and social, this has led to the return of out-of-home snacking. We are seeing a revitalized demand for smaller, on-the-go formats, showing that consumers are still turning to their favorite snacks, but in more convenient formats and sizes,” he outlines to FoodIngredientsFirst.

According to John Powers, marketing director, snacking and baked goods, ADM, lifestyle shifts disrupted many meal habits for people. As such, many are turning to convenient snack options that can be easily incorporated into their everyday lives.

“Circumstances related to COVID-19 heightened demand for more accessible solutions, which remains a major driver across foods and beverages, continually prompting more snacking occasions,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Conscious indulgence
A pivotal trend currently shaping the snacking category is health and wellness, according to Sonja Matthews, senior manager of strategic insights EMEA and ASPAC at Glanbia Nutritionals. This is leading consumers to demand snacks that not only taste good but offer health benefits. 

“Protein fortified snacks are seeing a rise in popularity, with one in six people now consuming them weekly,” she tells FoodIngredientsFirst

“With demands for healthier indulgent snacks on the rise, consumers are driven by snacks that deliver both indulgence and health benefits that don’t compromise on taste, and protein fortified snacks tick all the right boxes.” Specifically, consumers are switching from traditional snack products, like chocolate and confections, to high protein or low sugar alternatives, she notes.

Maan notes that more consumers may seek “permissible” or “better-for-you” indulgence and take on a more mindful approach to snacking. Seeking out ingredients like almonds. Such items package convenient health benefits like protein, fiber and essential nutrients while satisfying the urge to snack, he says.

Targeting mood
Busy lifestyles and changing demands in day-to-day life is creating a global population that is increasingly stressed, Maan adds. 

“Snacks with mood benefits have recently emerged to satisfy consumers who are using food to contribute to their mental wellness. Global F&B launches with mood-related claims and almond ingredients showed a compound annual growth rate of 45%.” 

“Though snacking has traditionally provided moments of relaxation, there is opportunity for the category to highlight nutrients that may contribute to better mood and mental functions,” Maan notes.

Similarly, Deeley observes that snacking occasions tend to be oriented either toward sustenance for physical health or indulgence for mental health. “We are seeing that consumers consider snacks and treats as part of a balanced lifestyle, from a mental well-being perspective, offering security and stability in an otherwise unpredictable world.” 

Manufacturers are continuing to respond to this with increasingly tailored products, including functional and mood-boosting ingredients like ashwagandha, creating plant-based versions of consumer-favorite products, as well as reducing negative nutrients such as salt, sugar and fat, he highlights. Almonds can serve a double function as both sweet and savory snacks. 

Biting into global flavors
As consumers are interested in snacking to support emotional needs, sensory elements, including flavor and texture, play a significant role, Powers underscores. 

“From vanilla to chocolate, salted caramel and birthday cake as well as cheddar cheese, barbeque and ranch, consumers are drawn to familiar tastes for comfort,” Powers says. 

“Some consumers find snacks appealing as an opportunity to try new, global flavors. Snacks lend themselves to a bit of trial and error, with consumers testing new flavors in a small bite rather than a whole meal.” 

Specifically, crackers, chips and pretzels dusted with regional spice blends like berbere, za’atar or roasted cumin are enticing adventurous snackers. Middle Eastern and Indian notes are also adding intrigue to both sweet and savory snacks, and ADM’s curated flavors library includes a wide variety of them; including orange blossom, rose, sesame, sumac, pomegranate, date and black lime, he notes.

“People are also relishing exciting textural and sensorial experiences, such as crunchy snacks, gooey candies and cooling sensations from ingredients like mint,” Powers adds. 

Similarly, Maan highlights the interest in global-inspired snack bars, such as Afar Food’s, aiming to let consumers travel – even while in lockdown – around the world, using ingredients like almonds, brown rice and destination-themed spices in flavors like Japanese Miso, Mexican Chili Lime, Italian Bruschetta and Indian Masala.

Consumers are increasingly eying functional snacks. Indulging with experiments
Snack products provide consumers with a low-risk way to experiment with new flavors and formats, Deeley notes. 

“Within savory snacks, evidence of this trend can be seen in new world cuisine-flavors and surprising sweet and savory combinations. In confectionery, this trend is manifesting as cross-category inspired products, taking flavors from beverages or bakery, and experimental products with multi-sensorial elements.” 

Matthews also observes an emerging interest in functional snacks that can either improve focus, provide an energy boost or release calming benefits.

“At the end of the day, we are all human and crave that ‘treat’ moment which is often met through snacks, unveiling a trend for consumers looking for ‘conscious indulgence’.” 

Manufacturing opportunities
Moving into the future, almond applications will continue to evolve in the snacking space, Maan notes.

“Though botanicals like ginger and turmeric are often associated with immunity, micronutrients in almonds including vitamin E, copper, manganese, zinc and riboflavin also have antioxidant properties, which are considered important for strengthening immune function.”

Additionally, Powers believes there will be increased options for portion-controlled snack packs as consumers lean more heavily into purposeful indulgence.

“There is an opportunity to introduce more ingredients derived from natural sources into these snack packs, as many shoppers are more closely scrutinizing product labels.” 

Companies will need to keep their eyes peeled on R&D in a bid to stay agile and stay ahead of the competitive curve, Matthews underscores.

Meanwhile, Deeley believes the healthier snacking space is set for growth and remains a huge opportunity for manufacturers. “The real opportunity is for snacks that provide the best-of-both-worlds: improved nutritionals without compromising on the indulgent taste of consumer-favorite snacks.” 

By Andria Kades

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.

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