Right now, the category is growing at around 10-15% year-on-year, says David Istier, who has secured shelf space for his gut-friendly organic fruit & veg pouches with prebiotic fiber next to refrigerated juices and fruit cups in 1,200 stores from Kroger to Whole Foods.
However, brands operating in this emerging market are all approaching it from different angles, and many are still trying to work out what works and what doesn’t, says Istier, who is now in talks with Safeway, Sprouts and leading club stores about expanding distribution this year.
Not everyone that has entered the category has found success
First, there are the babyfood brands trying to extend into adult snacking such as Plum Organics (which withdrew its adult Plum Vida fruit snacks after disappointing sales) and Happy Family (Shine Organics), explains Istier, who headed up sales and marketing for kids’ fruit snack brand GoGo SqueeZ in North America earlier in his career.
Then there are beverage brands such as Mamma Chia that have successfully expanded into new formats (Chia Squeeze Vitality shelf-stable fruit & chia snacks), and finally, there are start-ups looking for white space in the category such as Munk Pack (shelf-stable oatmeal and fruit pouches), Fruigees (shelf-stable juice concentrate-based pouches), and Nomva - a refrigerated HPP-treated fruit & veg snack with probiotics.
EnergyFruits, like Nomva, is "organic, refrigerated, and functional," says Istier (it includes 6g of acacia fiber, which has been shown to exert prebiotic effects in that it stimulates the growth of beneficial gut bacteria), but does not utilize HPP and comes with a longer shelf-life and a lower price tag.
“Nomva is around $3.99 whereas we are $1.99 to $2.39, but the more brands entering this space the better, as it all builds the category. We are all about fruit & veggie gut health on the go for health conscious adults.”
And while it is early days for EnergyFruits, sales at its biggest customer Kroger "are in line with our business plan projections and growing nicely at 30% since launch," says Istier, who relaunched the brand last fall on a gut health platform.
While retailers and manufacturers are still exploring what merchandising options work best for pouches targeting adults, says Istier, brands trying to attract health-conscious consumers probably have a better shot if they can secure real estate in the store perimeter by cold-pressed juices rather than the shelf-stable aisles next to apple sauce.
They also need to offer more than babyfood in adult-oriented packaging, argues Istier, who has been using Catalina coupons, price promotions and demos thus far to generate trial.
“If you want to convert adults to this packaging format, you need to be have some functionality.
“For some brands [that started in the babyfood arena] the [adult squeezy fruit] category hasn’t really taken off because it looks like the new products are just extensions of what they are already doing.”
The only drawback of the pouch format is that it is not currently recyclable, says Istier, although EnergyFruits – like Nomva and GoGo Squeez – has just signed up with a program called TerraCycle which enables users to mail empties off for 'upcycling'.
Although US consumers are still getting their heads around the term ‘prebiotic,’ many shoppers know it’s associated with gut health, and putting the word ‘fiber’ after it on the front of pack (EnergyFruits’ call-outs include ‘6g prebiotic fiber’) makes it more accessible to those confused or intimidated by the word used in isolation, says Istier.
“Consumers know they don’t get enough fiber.”
As for sugar, while EnergyFruits snacks contain 11-15g of sugar per 3.9oz serving, the sugar is coming from the fruit – and is not added – and is coupled with fiber from the fruits and veggies in the product as well as the added acacia fiber, says Istier.
“Sugar is now what everyone is paranoid about, but fruit contains sugar, we’re not adding any. You can also get sugar down by using veggies as well as fruits.”
What are prebiotics?
According to prebiotic guru Professor Glenn Gibson* from the University of Reading, UK, a prebiotic is a “selectively fermented ingredient that results in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health.”
In simpler terms, prebiotics are gut-friendly plant-based fibers which resist digestion in the small intestine and arrive in the large intestine where they are fermented and stimulate the growth of ‘good bacteria’ by giving them something to eat. (This is in contrast to probiotics, which are live microorganisms.)
*Gibson, G. R. et al. Dietary prebiotics: current status and new definition. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods 7, 1–19 (2010).