Snacking for pleasure and well-being

August 1, 2017

Blending great taste with nutritional benefits is key to a successful snack offering.

Snacks serve a variety of purposes for today’s perpetually noshing consumers, from satisfying hunger to meeting specific health and dietary goals to providing an energy boost.

Berries and chocolate

Indulgent snacking continues to rule the decision-making process for snackers, however, with 50 percent of consumers in a recent survey by Mintel saying that “treating themselves” is a motivation for snacking. The second most cited reason for snacking, noted by 37 percent of consumers, was to “give themselves a break during the day.”

Twenty-six percent of consumers in the survey said they snack to eat healthier, the fourth most cited reason for snacking behind eating on the go, at 27 percent.

“While health is a 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. “The wide range of motivations for snacking, including emotional wellness, functional outcome, health aid and social outlet, points to an opportunity for a wide array of product types and marketing approaches.”

Foodservice operators are responding with creative snack options that meet consumer demand for both taste and health concerns.

“Our customers are looking for indulgent snacks without a doubt,” says Chris Garrand, district manager and a chef in the healthcare/hospital division of Unidine. “What I see is smaller and more appropriately sized snacks being in demand. The days of the giant chocolate chip cookie are probably numbered.”

Unidine has developed snacks that can be made in its kitchens such as 2-ounce dried fruit- and nut-based “power balls,” banana-apple-oat cookies and tropical fruit energy bars, which Garrand says “pack just enough nutrients for that between-meal energy boost.”

“First and foremost, any items that you are offering— whether they be organic, local, or focused on health/nutrition — absolutely have to taste great,” he says, citing a chocolate beet cake that is popular with customers. A 3-ounce slice of the cake contains only 243 calories.

“Our customers are looking for better choice options, but are not willing to sacrifice great flavor,” says Garrand.

Laurie Demeritt, CEO of research firm The Hartman Group, says consumers are placing increasing significance on the nutritional content of their snacks as these mini-meals have grown to comprise 50 percent of all eating occasions, according to The Hartman Group’s Future of Snacking 2016 report.

“As consumers manage a customized approach to eating through their snack choices, they negotiate their own sense of balance between desires for nourishment, optimization, and pleasure in their daily choices,” she says.

Manufacturers have been responding with products that blend these drivers of snacking behaviors by creating snack foods that satisfy the taste buds while meeting the demand for healthy and nutritional attributes as well.

“What we have been seeing the last few years are more indulgent products that have health and nutritional benefits, and more healthful products that allow consumers to indulge,” says one packaged goods industry expert.

Examples include chocolate bars enhanced with energy boosters, high-protein chips made from grains or legumes and flavored with exotic spices, and various snacks infused with probiotics.

Consumers are also defining “health” more holistically when it comes to food products, expanding the definition to encompass attributes such as organic and natural, sustainable and locally sourced which is perceived as good for the environment and therefore good for the spirit. Indulgent snack products which can make these claims stand a better chance of resonating with a broader swath of today’s consumers who place a premium on the overall snacking experience.

Brand names and pricing also continue to play a key role in consumer decision-making around snacks, with 44 percent of consumers saying they select a snack based on it being made by their favorite brand, according to the Mintel report. Thirty-six percent say snack sales or promotions are a factor in selecting a snack.

Greg Fender, EVP at noncommercial foodservice provider Centerplate, says his company strives to provide a range of great tasting snack food offerings that meet a variety of consumer demands.

“Our guests are more knowledgeable than ever before about what they want out of their diets, so we have a responsibility to provide the best possible slate of items that we can,” he says. “This means offering items that are unique to the respective region. This also means being cognizant of the nutritional value of our menus. And, yes, we have had to educate ourselves on how to get things like tofu, quinoa, and acai to be more prevalent in our venues.”

This year, at Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers Major League Soccer team, Centerplate General Manager Ben Forsythe and Executive Chef Justin Lee created a “Gluten No Mas Taqueria Cart” that features naturally gluten-free street tacos and elotes (Mexican street-style corn on the cob). The options include locally sourced beef brisket, chicken tinga, and vegetable tacos that include ingredients like queso fresco, avocado crema, pickled onions, and cabbage.

“These are definitely tasty, but also health-conscious and a crowd-pleaser,” says Fender.

Last November, Centerplate also rolled out at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, several new, healthier menu selections, including turkey burgers, yogurt parfaits, hummus with pretzels, flatbread selections, deli sandwiches and chicken Caesar salads.

“We are constantly evaluating the suppliers we work with, to make sure that our ingredients are being produced in an ethical manner,” says Fender. “And, as a whole, we make a concerted effort at all of our venues to source locally and to have items that appeal to a wide array of palates.”