Healthy Snackers Plump The Bottom Line

Let berries lead the way to more nutritious eating habits for consumers.

The American appetite for snacks, much like the American waistline, is ever expanding, with consumers now getting as much as 25 percent of their daily calories from snack foods and beverages.

According to the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 34 percent of adults and nearly 17 percent of children age 2 to 19 in the United States are obese. However, the tide may be turning.

The 2010 State of the Snack Industry Report, developed by Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group, found that about two-thirds of Americans are trying to replace high-calorie snacks with healthier options or eat snacks with a better-for-you nutrient profile. Nearly 60 percent of consumers are trying to eat foods that help prevent or manage disease, 24 percent seek snacks that offer benefits beyond basic nutrition and 40 percent view snacks as an important part of a healthy eating plan, which, when they're well chosen, have merit.

While consumers want to know which products are low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sugar, high-fiber, low-calorie and whole grain, they also want to know about products with low sodium content and those that are all natural. Notably, the majority of consumers (51 percent) want retailers to clearly identify healthier products at point of purchase, and 47 percent want comments or symbols on packages to help them select healthier options.

Of course, talk is cheap, and consumers are more likely to eat what tastes good rather than what's healthy, but berries seem to be an exception. They taste good and they're good for you. They meet consumers' criteria for snacks that are nutritious, portable, tasty, natural and convenient. For retailers, berries can be leveraged to sustain a profitability center in produce.

Berry Good

According to Chuck Sweeney, director of category management for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll's, "Merchandising berries as snacks in the prepared food section of the store has been a huge win for our customers, accounting for an incremental 3 percent to 5 percent of total daily berry sales."

In addition to displaying berries in the prepared food section, sampling and cooking demonstrations can be an effective way into consumers' hearts and wallets. The challenge lies in exceeding shopper expectations. They're seeking health-and-wellness information from in-store registered dietitians and chefs, and ultimately an entertainment experience (think in-store wellness programs and hands-on cooking workshops).

Another reason berries are such a hot commodity is that they're available in both traditional and organic varieties. Dollar sales of organic (up 8 percent) and natural (up 7 percent) indicate that those snacks are performing well across the industry. Some 29 percent of consumers say it's important to them to eat snacks that are natural or organic, and 20 percent say they're trying to increase consumption of such foods.

Berries also have a compelling, fact-based nutrition story to tell, and they perform well when paired with signage that aids consumer buying decisions. At a supermarket in Miami, color-blocked Driscoll's berries are paired with Greek yogurt on ice beds at the entrance, making a powerful, well-executed visual statement that's hard to miss.

Eating healthier is no longer an individual effort; it has become a collective initiative that spans government, industry and the private sector. Soon, new legislation, nutrition programs and education will impact merchandising at store level, and retailers will be put under pressure to respond.

Tina Ruggiero is a spokeswoman, nutrition expert and author. You can follow her on Twitter @Tina_Ruggiero, read her opinions at or contact her at

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