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PG Web Extra: Cleaning Up in the Snack Aisle


Makers of healthy clean-label snacks have seen significant sales gains in the segment as shoppers seek out healthier foods to satisfy their appetites.

"We have experienced strong financial performance over the past several years," affirms Tom Ennis, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Amplify Snack Brands, maker of SkinnyPop popcorn and Paqui tortilla chips. "Net sales increased from $55.7 million on Dec. 31, 2013, to $132.4 million by Dec. 31, 2014, representing growth of 137.6 percent. We believe our sales growth reflects consumers’ growing preference for [better-for-you] snacks."

"Bare sales have grown dramatically over the past year, with 70 percent year-over-year growth in the grocery and natural channels," notes Dana Ginsburg, director of marketing at Manteca, Calif.-based Bare Snacks. "This growth has been driven by both consumer and retailer demand for better-for-you snacks that truly deliver on taste. More and more consumers are reading labels and looking for simple, real ingredients."

"Our Clearview Foods portfolio of products has been performing ahead of their respective competitive sets within the better-for-you snacks segment," observes Peter Michaud, VP and general manager of Clearview, a division of Charlotte, N.C.-based Snyder's-Lance encompassing the Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps, Eat Smart and Late July Organic Snack product lines. "Our focus on innovation that delivers great taste via better ingredients has really worked well for us and our loyal consumers."

"Performance has been exceptional," says Joe Lupica, marketing manager for the East Haven, Conn.-based SuperSeedz gourmet flavored pumpkin seed line. "We are now one of the fastest-growing snack companies in the category. … [O]ur volume has increased more than 120 percent versus last year."

Asserting that its meat snacks are performing "exceptionally well," Justin "Duke" Havlick, president of Boulder, Colo.-based Thanasi Foods, adds that sales of the company's Duke's "Shorty" Smoked Sausages "alone are up 200 percent."

Freedom to Snack

Although for many consumers, the decision to eschew certain food ingredients is voluntary, others, dealing with such health conditions as celiac disease or severe allergies, are obliged to avoid some items. Australian-owned Freedom Foods and Schiller Park, Ill.-based Enjoy Life Foods cater to both types of shopper.

"What sets our brand apart from our competitors is that every batch is tested for gluten, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, dairy and sesame," notes Freedom Foods CEO Michael Bracka. "All foods are 100 percent natural and totally GMO-free. We work hard to ensure we also deliver foods that are nutritious – using whole grains and good sources of fiber [and] protein, with low salt and sugar levels."

"Enjoy Life Foods is not only committed to producing products that are free-from artificial ingredients and the eight most common food allergens, but we've made it our mission to produce great-tasting foods that are all Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Kosher and Halal Certified," says Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer at the company, which took part in last month's Eat Clean Awareness Day promotion in New York City. "As a company, we are very careful with the levels of sugars we use, and in many of our new products, we have added functionality to our free-from products, such as added protein and probiotics." The most recent product from the company, whose snack items include Plentils, made from lentils, is a line of ready-to-use baking mixes, which rolled out last June.

This past August, Freedom Foods introduced several allergen-free oat bars, which, as well as being free of all of the usual suspects listed above, "have a fantastic natural grain-based prebiotic ingredient – and prebiotics can assist with improved digestive balance," according to Bracka.

"Our packaging highlights really clearly what is in our foods, what allergens we ensure are not in the foods, and also profiles the natural grain-based prebiotic properties," he adds. "At all the consumer gluten- and allergen-free expos we do around the U.S.A., we highlight these attributes to our customers."

"Enjoy Life communicates its clean-label approach by clearly indicating our third-party product certifications; use of only real, clean and free-from ingredients – nothing artificial ever – [and] ingredient benefits such as added proteins, etc. on our packaging," notes Warady. "This approach is consistently implemented in all Enjoy Life promotions and merchandising."

Providing detailed information on what their products contain is a must for both companies. "The Freedom Foods philosophy is to be clear and transparent with all ingredients, so consumers know exactly what is in the food," explains Bracka. "At Freedom Foods, we believe everyone is entitled to enjoy delicious food free from the things that you don't need, allowing your body to work and feel better."

"Trust is everything to Enjoy Life," affirms Warady. "We place a heavy importance on creating clean-label products, and our loyal consumer following is a reflection on the level [of] trust we've built between the brand and our fans."

Such an approach seems to be working for the two manufacturers. While Freedom Foods has the top-selling allergen-free breakfast cereal in its native country and has rolled out the product line out across the United States, "Enjoy Life is the No. 1 free-from brand, seeing a 27 percent dollar sales growth over the last 52 weeks," says Warady, citing data from Schaumburg, Ill.-based SPINS.

The companies' sales performance is further borne out by research from Chicago-based Mintel, whose recent "Free-from Food Trends US 2015" report finds that foods bearing "free-from" claims are increasingly relevant to Americans, with 43 percent of consumers agreeing that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim, while another three in five believe the fewer ingredients a product has, the healthier it is (59 percent).

In keeping with those results, Bracka sees Freedom Foods as anticipating an evolution in shoppers’ perceptions of product ingredients. "We absolutely believe that consumers who have to deal with food allergies will demand that food manufacturers undertake robust testing to ensure their products are safe," he predicts.

Warady has a similar take on the matter. "Consumers are creating a shift in the overall category and retail setting," he observes, "and we feel that we're in the early stage of a mass transformation as to how products are produced and sold."

Go With Protein

Protein snacks are hot, whether in bar or more natural forms.

Based on growing consumer interest in such items, Sunbelt Bakery, a brand of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based McKee Foods Corp., has introduced Protein Delights, whose light, crispy wafers offer "a different way to deliver the protein that consumers are seeking" from other protein bars, while its 6 grams of protein provide lasting satiety, notes Jeff Badger, McKee Foods' director of granola, cereal and specialty brands.

Positioned as "a nutritional part of a balanced diet," with 190 calories, 9 grams of sugar and wafers made from whole grain wheat, the bar comes in two indulgent varieties – Peanut Butter Crisps and Fudge Dipped Peanut Butter Crisps – either of which makes "a great snack to tide you over" between meals, says Badger. Further, he attests that the preservative- and high-fructose corn syrup-free item "tastes just fantastic."

Badger explains that the current product is actually an improvement on an offering the company released back in the 1980s, Peanut Butter Natural, whose admirable protein content "didn't resonate [with consumers] at the time," he notes, citing additional issues with pricing and packaging. The revamped version seems to be gaining more of foothold as it rolls out across the country. Currently authorized in Walmart, Woodman's Markets, WinCo and Hannaford, with a "smattering of interest" from additional retailers, Protein Delights has received "good feedback so far around the product's taste and uniqueness," he observes.

Meanwhile, Boulder, Colo.-based Thanasi Foods' popular Duke's "Shorty" Smoked Sausages "are full of lean protein due to the natural smoking and drying process, which allows for lower density of fat and higher density of protein," notes Justin "Duke" Havlick, the company's president, of his namesake product.

Along with "the rise of healthy protein," Havlick points to "the desire to eat on the go," "the love of craft" and "the 'real food' movement" as reasons for the success of Thanasi's meat snack lines. "Consumers are naturally gravitating to Duke's because we're making great-tasting smoked meats with a care and craft that doesn't exist [elsewhere] within the category."

Consumers Count Processed, Packaged Foods as Clean

According to new research by The NPD Group, 61 percent of primary grocery shoppers believe that packaged foods are acceptable when eating clean, and 44 percent of shoppers say some processing is also acceptable. The results, gleaned from a survey of more than 5,000 consumers, appear in NPD's "How Consumers Define Clean Eating" study.

The report finds that there are several key aspects of clean eating that are more prominent than others. In general, clean eaters emphasize items that are absent in foods or beverages, rather than what they contain. Of most importance to these consumers are foods without chemicals, preservatives or additives, and pesticides, and these consumers seem to be firm their choices, as 80 percent of clean eaters referred to their eating habits as a lifestyle, and not a diet or fad.

Committed clean eaters currently account for just 5 percent of primary grocery shoppers, and tend to be female and younger. While this is a small portion of the population, clean eating may have more longevity than other diets, since those who do it consider it a permanent feature of how they eat. Additionally, half of clean eaters have been doing so for more a year, suggesting that this is a sustainable lifestyle that capable of growth in the coming decades, NPD's report notes.

"Clean eating from a product development standpoint may seem discouraging for CPG manufacturers," says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD. "But the good news is packaged goods can still fit the bill with these consumers and attract them to the center of the store."

Crunchies Reborn

Following its acquisition by U.K.-based global food ingredient company Chaucer Foods last year, freeze-dried fruit snack brand Crunchies has unveiled what it calls "a top-to-bottom branding refresh," consisting of an all-new logo, product package, website and marketing campaign to highlight the many benefits of freeze-drying.

"Our bold new logo and packaging designs showcase our renewed focus on simplicity, quality and transparency," notes Scott Jacobson, Crunchies' new Los Angeles-based CEO. "The decision to display photographs of our freeze-dried fruit on packages, rather than fresh fruit images, is the kind of transparency we felt was missing from the category, and it's at the core of who we are as company and what our consumers value as well."

Adds Jacobson: "We want our customers to know where their food comes from, and we share that information openly with them."

Further, a content-rich storytelling campaign will debut on the company's revamped, lifestyle-driven website and social media channels, as well as in marketing materials during the coming months.

Available in both single-serve packs and larger grab-and-go resealable pouches, Crunchies contain no added sugar and no artificial flavors or coloring, and are non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, kosher and halal certified. The current lineup features strawberries, mangos, pineapples, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, cinnamon apple, strawberry banana and mixed fruit.


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