Expanding snack horizons

August 29, 2017

Greater awareness of exotic flavors opens snack opportunities in healthcare, business and industry.

Expanding snack horizons

As consumers have become more exposed to global ingredients and flavors, it has opened up the possibility for foodservice operators to expand their menus and incorporate more variety into their snack offerings.

Customers are more willing than ever to try exotic items, from spicy Southeast Asian dishes to snacks made from ancient grains. In “captive” customer venues such as healthcare and corporate foodservice accounts, the ability to expand the range of offerings which appeal to diners is one of the keys to keeping them on-site and coming back again and again.

While many consumers say they snack for nourishment, about half — 49 percent — say they snack for pleasure or to fulfill emotional desires for enjoyment, craving and comfort, according to Hartman Group’s 2016 Future of Snacking report. That leaves the door wide open for operators to offer snacks that fulfill the gamut of consumers’ needs, and to explore a range of flavors and cuisines that might pique consumers’ interest.

“Everyone loves to snack,” says Andrew Freeman, president of foodservice consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co., San Francisco. “Snacking can provide a way for consumers to try more variety in little doses without the commitment to full entrées.”

Appealing to younger consumers

Younger consumers — millennials and Gen Z — are demanding more nontraditional snack items, says Freeman.

They “love the chance to taste snack foods from many countries,” he says, citing items such as sausages, baos, empanadas and dosas.

“These items are great for sharing, are a bit lower cost and go great with drinks,” he says. “The sharing culture and the opportunity for taste adventures are influencing these choices. With the rise of interest in a variety of cuisines, snacks are a great way to experience these cultures.”

According to Sullivan Higdon & Sink’s FoodThink research, 67 percent of millennials say they like to snack “because it’s fun.” In addition, 62 percent of millennials say they enjoy snacking because it allows them to add variety to their diet, the FoodThink research found.

Healthy options

At the University of North Carolina, UNC Rex Hospital seeks to offer a wide assortment of nutritious and flavorful snacks, from fresh fruit to more complex and exotic culinary creations, says sous chef Christian Scott.

“We try to offer a variety of great healthy options that suit our versatile clientele,” he says. “We have to have a wide variety of items so that our customers/employees don’t become bored when faced with a lack of options. Our culinary team tries to stay up with the trends in the foodservice industry.”

Some of the snacks at UNC Rex Hospital that fit in with current trends include curried oven-roasted chick peas, house-made kale chips topped with Himalayan pink salt, blistered black-eyed peas, and dark chocolate fudge with oven-dried cherries and walnuts. The hospital also has offered a fresh smoothie program, and a Greek yogurt bar for breakfast.

Other better-for-you snacks include aguas frescas, raw trail mix, house-made granola, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, chia seed bars, raw protein bars made with dates and unsulfured coconut, and dark chocolate and green tea brittle.

In addition to an assortment of fresh fruit for snacking, Scott says UNC Rex Healthcare also offers a variety of quick and nutritious snack packs that it makes in house, including the “Protein Pack.” It features grilled chicken, hard boiled eggs and sliced English cucumbers. Another example is the Mediterranean snack pack that features house-made hummus, locally sourced pita bread, carrots and broccoli.

Catering to seniors

At Providence Point, a senior living community in Pittsburgh, exotic flavors have become a hit offering at the Madison Café, operated by Cura Hospitality, part of the Elior North America family of companies.

“Guests and staff are really attracted to the Seasonal Plate Program that is offered by Elior,” says Cheryl Rastetter, director of dining services at Providence Point. “Through Seasonal Plate, a wide variety of different flavors and options are available every month.”

Among the most popular items have been a Vietnamese noodle bowl, Asian chicken and quinoa lettuce wraps, ancient grains with spring vegetables, a habanero chicken sandwich and a summer vegetable farro bowl. In August the venue featured Cubano burgers.

“We have incorporated those exotic flavors into lighter snacks as well, such as harvest snack mix, seaweed popcorn and a hummus sampler — all homemade,” says Rastetter. “The staff and residents enjoy the change; it promotes excitement in dining services and is a conversation starter.”

The Cura staff engages with residents to teach them about the regions the items are from, she says.

“Offering exotic flavors definitely increased sales, increased engagement with customers and staff, increased our staff’s knowledge base and created excitement,” says Rastetter.