More than 20 percent of American consumers indicate they are now seeking healthier snacking options, according to Datamonitor - spelling opportunity for healthy ingredient manufacturers.
Consumer priorities are slowly shifting towards better-for-you foods and this could create further potential for the nutraceutical industry to collaborate with snack food makers as they look to enhance the healthy profile of their products.
However, according to a new survey from Datamonitor, there are two obstacles to this pursuit of healthy snacking: taste factors and the credibility of the healthy potential of traditional snacks.
In the survey, Datamonitor found consumers are not willing to sacrifice taste in their quest for healthy snacks - backing up findings from previous surveys.
Datamonitor revealed that 80 percent of men and women in the US and Europe agreed companies need to enhance the flavor and tastiness of healthy products.
The key for manufacturers is to find the balance between health and taste that will keep consumers coming back for more and make them feel good about their choice.
"Although healthy products remain a small percentage of overall indulgent snack releases, the indication is that a growing number of consumers wish to snack indulgently, but in a "guilt-free" manner", said the report author, Datamonitor consumer market analyst Richard Parker.
The market analyst surveyed 1,000 consumers in the US. Of the respondents, 24.4 percent indicated that over the past 12 months they had been "much more" likely to look for food and drink that is both convenient and healthy. While 36.7 percent said they had become "slightly more" likely to over that same period.
Snack food manufacturers have been aiming to reduce ingredients such as trans fats and salts, but there is perhaps further room for the makers of fortifying ingredients to bridge the health gap for consumers.
According to Datamonitor, "health" has become a growing product claim among typically unhealthy snack categories such as confectionery and savory snacks. These are now moving beyond focusing just on reduced fat or sugar, and on to functional benefits such as added vitamins or antioxidants.
The market analyst notes that consumer trust in healthy snacks still needs to be taken into account by manufacturers when making claims surrounding the healthy potential of a product. Snack foods and beverages with health benefits seem counter-intuitive to many consumers and skepticism towards corporate messages makes it an uphill battle for traditional snack producers, says Datamonitor.
Added to this is the fact that health considerations are still not found to be the primary influence in a consumer's choice when purchasing impulse snack foods. As such, they ignore the unhealthy characteristics of such snacks and choose them instead for their taste and to indulge themselves.
Over a third of the survey participants in both continents said they had looked for small indulgences to offer them escapism from daily pressures with greater regularity.
A recent report from Packaged Facts found that 33 percent of consumers say they do not have time to prepare healthy meals and as such are looking for on-the-go options.
Meanwhile, Mintel reported that salty snacks are facing serious threats in the US. The market analyst valued this market at $9.8bn in 2007, a four percent decline in constant terms since 2002.
The main factors at play were said to be competition from healthier alternatives outside the category.
The market, which Mintel calculates through sales in food, drug and mass merchandiser outlets (excluding Wal-Mart), has seen a general decline in consumption of pretzels, corn and tortilla chip snacks, cheese snacks and popcorn. Sales for these products went down by six percent since 2003, while potato chip consumption remained stagnant.