Sales of indulgent snacks outpace healthy options, IRI data shows

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sales of indulgent snacks outpace healthy options, IRI data shows

Related tags: Whole foods, Organic food

Consumers may be seeking more healthy and fresh foods in general, but when it comes to snacks, more people want an indulgent treat than something good for them, according to marketing data from IRI.

In 2014, “for the first time in a long time, indulgent is outpacing healthier”​ snack sales, said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive VP and practice leader, client insights at IRI. She explained during the March 19 webinar State of the Snack Food Industry, that dollar sales for indulgent snacks are up 3.1% year-over-year in 2014 compared to an increase of 2.5% for healthier snacks.

This reversal reflects that 59% of consumers say they indulge when they snack, according to IRI data, which also shows that when consumers reach for snacks it is often to satisfy cravings for foods that were salty, sweet, crunchy or crispy.

“Indulgent winners” ​that consumers often buy for snacks include dry meats, bakery items, pastries and refrigerated hand-held entrees, such as meat and cheese wraps, which “are having a really great year,”​ Wyatt said.

Indulgent snacks also are outpacing sales of healthier snacks now because “manufacturers have actually answered the call to make indulgent snacks more permissible,”​ Wyatt said.

For example, within the indulgent snack set, claims in 2014 were up 71% for fiber, 51% for energy, 47% for hormone-free, 31% for vegan and 30% for natural sweeteners compared to 2011, according to IRI data that Wyatt presented.

Demand for healthy snacks still growing

Even though the majority of people indulge when they snack, the number who seek healthy snacks is rising, Wyatt said.

She noted 41% of consumers view snacks as an important part of a healthy eating plan through the day, which is up one percentage point from 2011. In addition, 50% of consumers seek snacks that offer benefits beyond basic nutrition, which is up 26 percentage points from 2011, according to IRI data.

The top four additional benefit claims driving growth of healthy snacks include calcium, protein, energy and fiber, Wyatt said. Beyond these were claims related to freshness, nutrition and satiety, she added.

As in the indulgent set, claims for products in the healthy snack set in 2014 were up 37% for natural, 26% for hormone-free, 19% for vegan, 15% for gluten free and 10% for fiber, according to IRI data.

Natural and organic snacks are up

Overlapping the healthy verses indulgent dichotomy, more consumers now prefer to eat natural and organic snacks, Wyatt said.

She noted 48% of consumer say they prefer to eat natural snacks, which is up three percentage points in 2014 from 2013. In addition, IRI data shows 27% of consumers eat more organic and organic-labeled snacks than a year ago, Wyatt said.

This increase is helping sales of natural and organic snacks grow more quickly than natural and organic food and beverage sales overall, Wyatt noted.

From 2013 to 2014, sales of natural snacks increased 12.7% compared to an increase of 10.8% for all natural food and beverages, according to SPINS data. Likewise, sales of organic snacks are up 11.6% compared to total organic food and beverage sales, which are up 13% in the same time period.

Part of this increase is due to “retailers embracing natural and organic in a new way,”​ and striving to make these options more affordable, Wyatt said. She noted that Walmart relaunched its Wild Oats organic line, Sam’s Club offers more organic products and Kroger sold more than $1 billion in annual sales of organic foods in fiscal 2014 after launching its Simple Truth brand.

Another key driver is increased consumer demand for more transparency, which led to 30.9% more snacks becoming Non-GMO Project Verified and manufacturers marketing 15.3% more USDA organic certified snacks in 2014 compared to 2013, according to SPINS data.

Balancing consumers’ dueling demands

In an effort to balance consumers dueling demands for salty verses sweet and indulgent verses healthy, manufacturers are starting to blur the lines between the categories, Wyatt said.

For example, she said, indulgent snacks, such as chips, are becoming healthier by using more nutritious vegetables than corn and potatoes as the base. Late July offers a sweet potato chip and The Bistro Chip offers a beet based chip, she noted.

Healthier snacks also are becoming more indulgent with the addition of chocolate or higher fat content. For example, Chobani Flip combines healthy low-fat Greek yogurt with decadent toppings such as almonds and chocolate that consumers can mix in before they eat. In addition, several protein and snack bars are drizzled with chocolate.

Finally, Wyatt noted, many companies are blending savory and sweet in limited edition snacks that appeal to consumers, such as Lays cappuccino potato chips and chocolate covered Pringles. 

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