The report, which has been developed in conjunction with the Center for Culinary Development (CCD), says that time-pressed consumers are now looking to snacks to replace meals, rather than to just fill the gaps between them, and are therefore looking for nutritional punch as well as more exotic flavors and quality ingredients.
The report cites figures from the NPD Group, which show that 21 percent of all meals consumed in the US are now snacks, with snacking forecast to grow 14 percent by 2017.
CCD CEO Kimberley Egan said: "Snacks are less and less the hunger-soothing bridge between formal meals. They have become valuable gastronomical events in their own right, especially as consumers demand more from their snacks."
Manufacturers are responding with a range of options that either offer nutrition in themselves, such as protein and fiber in baked vegetable snacks, or that play on the perception of health suggested by the raw ingredients, such as seasoned nori sheets and vegetable chips.
More manufacturers are becoming aware of the power of a so-called ‘healthy halo’. This is an idea also used by flavor companies making superfruit or tea flavors, for instance, that tap into consumer awareness of the whole food’s antioxidant properties without asserting that the flavors present any of their health benefits.
“The health halo around veggies like sweet potatoes and parsnips gives these snacks instant better-for-you status, but the last thing consumers want are chips that ‘taste’ healthy,” said the report. “Instead, alternative chips offer indulgence fused with a perception of healthfulness.”
New snack trends that have already achieved mainstream acceptance include nuts in ethnic-inspired flavors. These are divided according to consumers’ age range, according to the market researcher, with under-40s looking for wasabi, chili, lime and soy sauce flavored nuts, and baby boomers interested in mellower, herby flavors. All ages are interested in the promise of added performance benefits, such as increased energy and stamina.
Other emerging snack foods with a health-conscious twist are high-end popcorn, in more sophisticated flavors such as black truffle, curry or parmesan cheese, and ‘whole-nutrition sweets’ based on whole grains and pulses, like brown rice, soybeans and lentils, without skimping on sugar, butter or chocolate.
Packaged Facts calls whole grains “the unlikely ingredients in the sweets consumers are munching for flavor and for things like protein and fiber.”