As consumers increasingly turn to snacking in place of meals, they’re looking for convenience, but also greater nutritional value from the foods they define as snacks.
According to The Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash., consumers now consider half of all eating occasions as snacks, and while the definition of snacking is evolving, it typically consists of mini meals that involve little to no preparation or cleanup.
Hartman’s “Culture of Food 2015: New Appetites, New Routines” report finds that these “food decisions are driven by availability, wants and whims, aspirations and ethics,” but at the same time, we’re also “more conscious of health outcomes when choosing what to eat.”
Consumer demand for healthy convenience is driving innovation in produce, turning the perimeter of the store into an epicenter of fruit- and vegetable-based snacking solutions.
Easy Does It
As lead nutritionist for Carlisle, Pa.-based Ahold USA banners Giant Food Stores and Martin’s Food Markets, Sarah Glunz frequently hears from customers who say that ready-to-eat is the single most determining factor in their consumption of produce.
“Most people understand they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but the biggest reason they don’t eat more is the prep,” she notes. “Everyone says if it’s ready to go, they’ll eat it.”
Plenty of fresh fruit — apples, bananas, oranges and pears, for example — is virtually prep-free, so Glunz steers customers to these items, suggesting that they keep them in a bowl on the kitchen counter, as research shows that people eat more fruit when it’s in plain sight.
She also points customers toward the variety of fresh-cut items available in produce that are equally convenient to eat.
“It’s about finding ways to make it as easy as possible to consume produce quickly,” says Glunz, who adds that many customers will buy a fruit or veggie tray to keep in the fridge and share with family members throughout the week.
Health-conscious snacking is also fueling growth in packaged chip-style products in the produce department, from Harvest Snaps to Zippy’s Veggie Bites to Sunkist’s Snack it Forward freeze-dried fruit.
“I see people gravitating to those kinds of snacks,” affirms Glunz, adding that, per the Produce for Better Health Foundation, fruits and vegetables in all forms count as consumers strive to up their daily intake.
Products that pair a fruit or veggie with dip are also resonating with Giant’s customers. “Families who can afford them and who are pressed for time are going to the snacks like celery and ranch [dressing], or carrots and peanut butter,” observes Glunz. “I like those packaged snacks, because even if consumers aren’t buying them, it’s a good reminder of the combinations they can create at home.”
Targeting the health-conscious and convenience-seeking consumer who digs dipping, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, of Oviedo, Fla., recently introduced The Dandy Celery Snack Line of six ready-to-snack items.
“More than half of Americans snack two to three times a day,” notes Dan Duda, president and COO. “The mission of our company is to offer our products in ways that directly meet the needs of consumers, particularly in the celery category.”
The line includes Celery Sticks in a 1.6-ounce single-serve package; Celery and Peanut Butter Fun Packs (in 2.3-ounce and 4.15-ounce sizes that feature a Peanut Butter & Co. squeezable pouch); and Crunchables, a grab-and-go cup that contains celery sticks with three varieties of ranch-favored dips from Marzetti’s (Ranch, Light Ranch and Southwest Ranch).
For its part, Mann Packing Co. continues to create new ways for consumers to enjoy veggies and dip. The Salinas, Calif.-based company recently introduced a new seasonal veggie tray in 18-ounce and 40-ounce sizes. The trays, which feature celery, carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and a creamy ranch dressing, are shipping through this month to customers nationwide.
Produce Every Time
As a nutritionist, Glunz focuses less on how consumers are eating — whether it’s a snack or a meal — and more on what they’re eating.
“The conversation is the same if the customer is eating three meals a day or six small meals or snacks a day,” she explains. “We always talk about balance. Making half the plate fruits and vegetables still stands, whether they’re eating a snack or a meal. We need to make it the norm that we have fruits and vegetables every time.”
With this in mind, Glunz teaches customers how to incorporate more produce in their diets in fun and appealing ways. She recently led a class for high school students where she taught them how to make smoothies with avocados. “They really liked it,” she reveals.
“Smoothies overall are a big trend, but I remind people that just because it’s a smoothie doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” adds Glunz, who finds that smoothies are also great for families with picky eaters. “It’s not always taste, it’s often the texture of a fruit or vegetable, that kids object to.”
In the Bag
For most people, giving up chips would be like giving up chocolate: impossible. However, thanks to the introduction of crunchy and flavorful produce-based snack products that satisfy like a chip but offer nutritional value, consumers don’t have to forsake this cherished snacking experience.
“There is a long way to go on consumers consistently making healthy snacking choices,” says Keith “Zippy” Mullin, founder of Zippy’s. “Until we see a decline in obesity, Zippy’s will keep on fighting and educating Americans that snacking healthy will help them do the things that they love, longer.”
Zippy’s Veggie Bites, which Mullin describes as a salad on the go, use a patent-pending process to bind non-GMO vegetables together in a shelf-stable format.
The La Jolla, Calif.-based company’s most popular product is Veggie Bites California Ranch; Zippy’s also makes Veggie Bites in Simply Caesar, Spinach & Cranberry, and Lemon & Kale flavors. Mullin created the line, as well as some new flavors that are in development, with the goal of giving consumers a healthy, tasty snack that they would choose over conventional chips.
“Snacks that I liked slowed me down,” says Mullin. “The ones that were healthy tasted like old cardboard. I wanted a snack that would help me do the things I liked to do and tasted good.”
When it comes to merchandising packaged shelf-stable snacks in produce, Mullins says placement is key. “Recently, we have seen grocers building dedicated shelving for healthy snacking within the produce section, which is effective merchandising for many reasons,” he notes.
“Consumers are moving away from three big meals a day to more snacking throughout the day,” observes Nick Desai, CEO of Los Angeles-based Snack it Forward, which has partnered with Sunkist Growers Inc. to create better-for-you snacks such as Sunkist Fruit Chips and Sunkist Trail Mix Redefined. Snack it Forward is now expanding into the savory side of healthful snacking with an upcoming, but as yet to be officially announced, acquisition of a pea-based snack company.
“The quality of the snacking has also evolved,” adds Desai. “It’s not getting a cookie from the vending machine. Consumers want their snacks to have nutritional value, not empty calories.”
The Sunkist Fruit Chips, a line of 100 percent pure freeze-dried fruit snacks in four varieties (Crunchy Strawberries, Crunchy Grapes, Crunchy Banana and Crunchy Fuji Apple) landed in Walmart stores last October. Desai has been pleased with the initial consumer response.
“Our Fruit Chips offer all the convenience of a chip, but they only have one ingredient — fruit,” he notes.
Most trail mixes are nut-based, but Sunkist Trail Mix is more fruit-focused. “We’re doing a lot of premium fruits like blueberries, strawberries, mangoes and pineapple,” says Desai. The mix is 60 percent to 70 percent fruit, with premium tree nuts as a complement.
The company will be introducing single-serve packs of both the Fruit Chips and Trail Mix, and new flavors in both lines are in the works. According to Desai, while the products’ opaque packaging “bucks convention,” it also keeps the contents of the bags fresher and crunchier than clear bags.
Protein and Produce
As snacks replace meals, fresh fruit and vegetable products that also contain a protein are increasingly in demand. From salads with chicken or quinoa that can be eaten on the go to snack packs that feature a combination of fruit and nuts, innovative products are making a splash with consumers in search of quick and nutritious fuel.
Pro2snax, the newest product from Reichel Foods Inc., of Rochester, Minn., provides a combination of apples and protein. The line currently offers two flavors: Sliced Apples with Mild Cheddar Cheese and Sweet Gala Apples with Almonds. Reichel plans to expand Pro2snax with up to four new flavor combinations.
“Be sure to stand the product up so consumers can see it while making their purchasing decision,” advises Nicole Ly, Reichel customer operations manager. She further recommends merchandising Pro2snax and similar products in the fresh-cut and/or convenience section of produce, as well as promoting multiple-product pricing such as four for $5.
Game Day Snacking
Increasingly, fresh produce suppliers and organizations are promoting occasion-based snacking.
With this in mind, Avocados From Mexico (AFM) has joined forces with Old El Paso, a brand of Minneapolis-based General Mills, to capitalize on peak guacamole consumption leading up to and during the Super Bowl. The Guac Nation program offers ways to increase consumer avocado demand and consumption around football gatherings.
“The Big Game ranks as one of the top occasions where avocados are served, and guacamole is the No. 1 usage for avocados,” says AFM President Alvaro Luque. AFM further notes that the Super Bowl is among the top three special occasions among Hispanics where avocados are served.
The campaign includes a consumer sweepstakes, consumer savings and a digital media campaign. Guac Nation will also feature in-store support, including a retail display contest, in-store radio and in-store merchandising focused on bins shaped like a molcajete (a mortar and pestle used to mash homemade guacamole).
For the second straight year, AFM will run a commercial during the Super Bowl. Last year, AFM became the first fresh food commodity to advertise during the game, earning more than 1.6 billion impressions in one week.
Fresh-cut On the Go
“Fresh produce has undoubtedly become a snack of choice in the United States,” asserts Dionysios Christou, VP marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, in Coral Gables, Fla. “We have a full pipeline of new products that address consumer and customer needs, especially focused on snacking.”
Del Monte’s approach is to target health-conscious snackers in general, and those with busy lives in particular.
“We have also expanded our fresh-cut range and packaging to meet the needs of this growing and demanding consumer segment,” notes Christou. “For example, our fresh-cut fruit and vegetable containers now include features such as nonspill containers and cups that fit in car cup holders.”
Marketing to these on-the-go consumers in a way that promotes a healthier lifestyle is also top of mind for Del Monte. “One tactic has been leveraging POS, merchandising and social media to encourage healthy eating habits for sporting events, holidays and for fueling up at work and school,” he explains.
“The great thing about fresh produce is that many of our fruits and vegetables naturally lend themselves to portability and snacking,” adds Christou. “Since consumers have grown to expect healthy snacks that are fresh, convenient and on-the-go, many of our newest items have also been very popular.”
“Most people understand they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but the biggest reason they don’t eat more is the prep.”
—Sarah Glunz, Giant Food Stores
“Consumers want their snacks to have nutritional value, not empty calories.”
–Nick Desai, Snack it Forward
“Fresh produce has undoubtedly become a snack of choice in the United States.”
–Dionysios Christou, Del Monte Fresh Produce