Hot New Trends are Changing the Face of Snacking

November 6, 2017

As consumers embrace new attitudes and behaviors around food in general and snacking in particular, the traditional lines between snack categories are blurring.

Sweet snacks are incorporating savory flavors and ingredients; savory snacks are evolving with more sweet-and-salty combinations, and snacks of all types are positioning themselves as being more authentic, less processed, full of protein, and better-for-you.

Consumers have a growing awareness of functionality when it comes to snack ideas, says Hayley Bradley, director of procurement and vendor management at Norman Distribution, a full-service distributor of better-for-you snacks, beverages and grocery products to multiple channels.

Woman having a snack and checking her smartphone

“Less and less, we see consumers mindlessly snacking on something just for the sake of having a bite between meals,” Bradley says. “Now there's more awareness about how much protein is in that salted nut mix, how antioxidant rich those chocolate-covered berries are or what type of superfood boost you'll get from that energy bar. Adding brands that offer more than empty calories is a great way to follow suit with market trends.”

Indulgence Rules

Despite increasing interest in health, indulgence remains a primary motivation for snacking.

Half of all consumers surveyed by research firm Mintel say the primary reason they snack is to treat themselves. According to Mintel’s May 2017 Snacking Motivations and Attitudes – U.S. report, other top motivations for snacking include:

 ● giving themselves a break during the day (37 percent);
 ● eating on the go (27 percent);
 ● eating more healthfully (26 percent);
 ● and relieving stress (24 percent).

“While health is a factor for consideration, the highest percentage of snackers do so for a treat, meaning even health-focused snacks should aim at enjoyment,” Mintel concludes in the report.

Noncommercial operators are meeting these consumer demands by offering more healthful savory snack options along with a strong assortment of sweet, rewarding snacks, and by allowing guests to customize their snacks through venues such as yogurt and smoothie bars. They are also catering to consumer interest in new flavor combinations by merchandising more “crossover” snacks that combine sweet, savory and healthful attributes.

Sweet and Savory Convergence

Christine Couvelier, founder of consulting firm Culinary Concierge, notes that granola bars are an example of products that are blending sweet and savory flavors.

A Trend Watch report she compiled a few years ago detailed the migration of sweet flavors into more savory products — such as barbecue sauces with honey — and the trend seems to be expanding, she says.

“I think we’re seeing that now in the snack category,” says Couvelier.

Other examples of the sweet-and-savory mash-up include savory doughnuts, and hummus flavored with chocolate, she says. Savory yogurts are another example of crossover snack foods, says Couvelier, citing build-your-own yogurt bars that include such options as kimchee and tomatoes.

Noncommercial operators are creating their own sweet-and-savory mash-ups. At Serai in New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, Julian Alonzo, regional executive chef, Starr Catering Group, melds sweet and savory with a mango fruit roll-up seasoned with chili powder and lime as an anytime snack. And Duke University Dining recently introduced two varieties of sweet-and-savory hummus — one flavored with salted caramel and another with chocolate fudge, offering a healthful serving of protein while seeking to satisfy diners’ sugar cravings at the same time.

Savory and Wholesome

Healthier versions of savory and salty snacks are one of the key trends in the category, says Tom Pastre, market research analyst for Packaged Facts.

The research firm cites Mondelez’ Good Thins line of crisps made from ingredients that include potatoes, chickpeas, corn and oats as an example of a snack that is both wholesome and savory. The line features natural flavors and contains no artificial colors, cholesterol, partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.

Other key savory snack trends Pastre cites are:

 ● Protein options, including beans and meats
 ● Superfoods including chia, quinoa, ancient grains and avocado
 ● Continued use of “healthier” oils, including avocado, coconut and olive
 ● Thin and bite-size chips for portion control and snackability
 ● More unique flavors, such as ghee, a type of clarified butter with a nutty taste
 ● New processing technologies for unique shapes and textures

Gain Customers’ Trust

Bradley of Norman Distribution says noncommercial operators enjoy success with the snack category when they build trust by meeting the needs of their customers.

“The success stories we have witnessed don’t necessarily rely on maxing out variety,” she says. “Rather, they consistently provide access to superior brands that meet their consumers’ needs. Once you’ve gained the trust of the consumer, they’ll be more likely to purchase unfamiliar products that you present.”

The noncommercial category has been more open to niche brands than it has in the past, says Bradley.

“Rather than being seen as outliers, unique or exclusive products are being showcased as a premium offering which the outlet introduces to consumers,” she says.

As for snacks that combine elements of sweet and savory, many branded snack suppliers offer free display racks or other display options to present their snacking lines as a whole, reinforcing the convergence of these items, Bradley says.

The increasing overlap among sweet and salty snacks, combined with consumers’ interest in snacking for both pleasure and nutrition, will force operators to rethink traditional merchandising strategies. The snack category can no longer be an afterthought for foodservice professionals seeking to satisfy the needs and wants of today’s consumers.