Consumer Interest in Healthier Snacks Continues

By Angela Altass

People continue to show increasing interest in knowing what is in the food they are consuming, including in-between-meal snacks.

“We have seen an increase in customers showing more interest in eating healthy and educating themselves on what they are putting into their bodies,” says Sarah Hunt, sales & purveyor of Fun, GORP Energy Bar. “At the beginning, people were asking us ‘what is this’, but a couple of years ago the conversation changed to ‘what’s in here.’ Consumers are asking us about our ingredients, where they come from, and finding out if our products can meet their dietary needs.”

People want to know they are eating something truly healthy and that they can trust the ingredients, says Hunt, adding that GORP has recently added some new products, including GORP Brown Rice Syrup and GORP Oatmeal Blends.

“Our most recent addition is The BEST little PEANUTS in the World,” states Hunt. “Simple and delicious, lightly salted roasted Spanish peanuts.”

Consumers are looking to take their breakfasts and snacks on the go and are especially interested in protein packed snacks, says Hunt.

“Snacks that contain natural sugars with no preservatives or additives and limited ingredients are on trend,” notes Hunt. “Parents of young children are becoming conscious of choosing foods with natural ingredients. This generation of parents seem to be more interested in the type of ingredients their children are consuming. As school-age children become more active, parents look for convenient, on-the-go snacks with protein and natural sugars. People also like re-sealable packaging.”

Major brands, service outlets and sourcing companies are scrambling to convert their product lines to express healthier offerings, says Vijay Prashad, Berbician Royal Foods.

“They do not want to be blamed for feeding consumers unhealthy snacks for decades but would rather be labeled as a game changer,” states Prashad. “Unfortunately, small companies like ours may not be credited for creating such a drive for healthy consumerism.”

Berbician Royal Foods, with a home base of Etobicoke, Ontario, is in the process of replicating its manufacturing process and product line into the United States and European Union.

“Due to the strict restrictions on meats and market access, we are shipping our meats and spices to the United States to produce a made in America with Canadian meats version of our salami and meat snack line, which will allow us great market access for our products in the United States and the rest of the world,” says Prashad. “Our US product line is ready and waiting to be rolled out as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic is taking an ease. We are also in the process of shipping Canadian bison into the EU to make a line of our bison salami and bison meat snack sticks. We are also adding a line of canned bison stews for the EU market.”

Consumers are interested in having options and are looking for snacks that are different and unique but they also need to be quick, easy and convenient, states Prashad.

“Parents are definitely seeking out healthier snacks for their children, especially those with special dietary needs,” says Prashad. “We are developing a Halal sliced lamb capicola, catering to everyone and especially for those parents with children who have special dietary requirements but, at the same time, want to blend in with western foods.”

Prashad feels strongly that Berbician’s products are a good fit for convenience stores.

“Per price point, we have made our product pricing in line with the major brands who do not offer a full protein line like Berbician,” says Prashad. “Therefore, there is no reason for outlets not to want to take the responsibility of educating and caring for their customers with healthy offerings instead of just taking on easy traditional sell items. I always say to myself that I do not want to turn in my grave when I am dead for feeding people unhealthy foods. Canadian consumers need to demand more and not just accept what is conveniently placed on the outlet’s shelves by one or two players and the outlet needs to bear the same responsibilities. There must be a good reason why Japan has over 100 varieties of Kit Kat flavours.”

Consumers want to purchase snacks that they know are both good for them and safe to eat, says Catherine Kurz, marketing and business development, The Great Canadian Meat Co.

“There is so much information available that consumers aren’t just impulse purchasing snacks without looking into what they’re really eating anymore,” says Kurz. “There has been a trend toward eating healthier and living a healthier lifestyle for a long time now and as more people become aware of certain dietary needs or restrictions, this has only grown. All our snacks are relatively low fat and high protein. We do have some new products coming that are healthier than anything we’ve done before but we’re not quite ready to release them yet.”

Meat snacks can be a source of confusion for some people, notes Kurz.

“We are always looking for ways to make it clearer to consumers that our products are as healthy as we can legally make them and we’re always cleaning up our labels,” she says. “In meat snacks, there is a trend toward cleaning up labels and including less preservatives. What most people don’t know is that there needs to be a certain amount of salt and preservatives to be approved by the CFIA, so we’re restricted to working within those guidelines. So, while we try to eliminate as many preservatives as we can to attract customers who want to eat cleaner, we have guidelines to follow. Cleaning up labels is something we are constantly working toward.”

Kurz says that consumers are looking for snacks that taste good and aren’t high in calories or fat.

“If it’s low in sugar or carbs but just doesn’t taste satisfying enough, it won’t be a repeat buy,” she states. “Most parents who can afford to are seeking out healthier snacks for their families. Children are taught in school to eat healthier and parents are trying to adhere to those guidelines. However, it is important to note that not all healthier snacks are affordable, so it can be challenging to find healthy snacks outside of fruit and vegetables. Meat snacks are actually a great healthy alternative to chips or candy and not all are expensive.”

The Great Canadian Meat Co.’s products are shelf-stable as well as lightweight and don’t require a lot of space, making them a great fit for convenience stores, says Kurz, who advises mixing them in with other snacks instead of just having them in a healthy section.

A separate healthy section in a store can give customers the impression that healthy snacks are more expensive, inaccessible, don’t taste good or are for certain dietary restrictions, comments Kurz.

“Creating attractive displays is key as well as including full, complete sections of a certain brand,” says Kurz. “If the brand looks credible and attractive, more people will be intrigued and thus eat healthier.”

Popcorn is a timeless snack that has continuously evolved over the last century with flavours like classic butter, white cheddar, caramel and kettle. SNAX-Sational has come up with a premiere popcorn brand, Snack Pop, with flavour offerings that combine popcorn with candy and cookies, such as OREO Cookie Pop, TWIX Candy Pop, and Butterfinger Candy Pop. Marketed as a low-calorie, candy and cookie-coated line of popcorn the product is made with non-GMO corn and is low in sodium with 150 calories per serving.

Spark Bites is a product that is destined to soon hit store shelves in Canada. Created by Warren Brown, the same entrepreneur behind the CakeLove in a Jar brand, Spark Bites are promoted as a healthy snack with wholesome energy that is easy to eat and portable. The cinnamon crunch and cocoa flavours are popular with young and old alike while coffee, Mumbai masala, and red beet might be more appealing to adult tastebuds.

“Consumers like the product because it’s healthy, gluten-free, and vegan,” says Brown. “The energy comes from a nutrient-dense ingredient list. Each snack has a group of whole grains, legumes, carbs, blended dried fruits, and spices specifically picked to deliver a healthy snack full of wholesome energy.”

Brown advises store owners not to shove healthy snacks in a section out of the way, in spaces where customers are less likely to find them.

“People of all ages and from all walks of life have expressed a genuine appreciation that this product is available,” he notes. “Being different and leading edge can have its challenges but people are often happy to see something that is different. As a company, we are always making products that are a little different and we are happy to be ahead of the curve.”

Convenience stores are likely seeing a decline in the sales of some of the high sodium, high fat, high sugar snacks, states Rhonda Goldberg, president, Oh! Naturals Flavoured Snacks Inc.

“For the convenience trade, everything is changing,” says Goldberg. “Quite a few years ago, the demand for healthier snacks became evident with the fastest growing segment in grocery stores coming from the natural, gluten-free area.”

However, Goldberg is cautious about the use of the word healthy.

“Healthy has a different definition for everyone,” she remarks. “Our products are a fun, functional, healthier choice but we are not the healthiest choice. People are more educated and they want a snack that is good for them and tastes great. They want to know what they are eating but they don’t want something that looks interesting and healthier but tastes like garbage.”

Oh! Naturals banana chips and sweet potato fries will soon be found in 7-Eleven stores and Goldberg says that the products’ long shelf life helps make them a good convenience store option.

“We don’t have preservatives in our snacks and the reason we have a year shelf life is because of the way we bag our products,” she explains. “We use a more expensive bag that doesn’t allow oxygen in.”

The word convenience has a different meaning for everyone, adds Goldberg, noting that adding new products to your offerings might bring some new clientele into the store.

As the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, attracting customers back into the stores will be vital and with health being top of mind for everyone, having healthier product offerings on the shelves makes sense.