As consumers migrate towards healthier food choices, manufacturers of traditional savory and confectionery snacks are tasked with coming up with products that appeal to people’s shifting definitions of indulgence and “meal time” – and in a category with increasingly blurred lines.

The snacks category is exploding. No longer merely an impulse buy or something to be enjoyed between meals, snacks are more commonly consumed throughout the day and often replacing one or more meals. As a result, snacks are one of the fastest growing subcategories within the packaged foods market – the snacking business having grown by US$3.4 billion globally in 2017 – with notable surges in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. 

The way people are eating has changed drastically over the last five to 10 years, with millennials and Generation Z leading the charge. Although they tend to be more informed about their eating choices, they are often described as “time poor” as they juggle work, maybe a family and a social life, using snacks for an energy boost or as a meal replacement. 

Globally, single-person households are growing faster than any other, with low-income groups growing more quickly than a decade ago. All of these factors have led to an increase in single-portion foods and snack replacements – foods consumed in lieu of a meal and which meet more nutritional requirements than traditional snacks.

Redefining indulgence

According to Euromonitor International, conventional snacks such as confectionery are in decline in favor of savory and dairy snacks. Above all, health-positioned snacks are outperforming traditional snacks, and their share will increase substantially by 2020, reflected in the number of food companies adopting healthy snacks via acquisition. The modern snack is, in many cases, still seen as an indulgence, however today there is more interest among consumers to enjoy these indulgences without sacrificing health & well-being, quality, nutrition or their own ethics. For example, brands that buy up foods that do not meet supermarket requirements but which can be turned into healthy and attractive snacks – thus helping to eliminate food waste – a win-win for peckish and sustainable-minded consumers.

Snack products that offer a broader range of textures and ingredients, are more natural yet deliver a diversity of flavors, are also growing in popularity. Add to that list, sustainably sourced and organically grown, with care taken to minimize packaging and waste, and if possible, minimally processed. Think organic cold-pressed soup as an alternative to a soft drink and you begin to understand how this category is moving. Will confectionery snacks simply disappear? No, but the trend will be for consumers to reserve them more for weekends and special occasions. 

The snacking perimeter

Because people’s preferences are shifting when it comes to sugar and protein consumption, the field of snacking is now much broader. 

People will consider all types of foods a snack as long as it meets their criteria – whether that be convenience, price or nutritional value.

Staying relevant in the new era of healthy snacking

And while the category is nearly limitless in its variety, according to The Nielsen Company, it’s the perimeter where a lot of interesting innovation is taking place. The core snacking products (confectionery, chips, nuts, popcorn, cookies, snack bars, water soda, energy drinks) are still in demand, but products that were primarily consumed outside of snacking are appealing more and more to consumers; today, nearly every food and drink category has a ”snacking” option (e.g. cereal turned into on-the-go bars; spreads turned into snack packs; drinkable yogurts; to-go milk drinks; single serve ice creams in the freezer aisle; snack sized portions of packaged fruits and vegetables in the produce area, etc). 

The increase of products on the snacking perimeter is fueled by big, as well as niche brands and private labels determined not to miss out on this snacking revolution; those who are successful are able to react in an agile manner to consumer needs, thus challenging core snacking products. Nielsen believes it will be innovation at the perimeter that continues to drive the snacking evolution and will shape the core of the snacking category – with foods and products moving into the core when they become “synonymous with the snacking mission.” Protein snacks, whether meat or plant-based are finding their way into the snacking core as well, particularly natural and free from options. Beef jerky and snack sausages, for example, are making a comeback as consumers look to get more protein and nutrition out of their on-the-go meals and snacks.

Product trends from the Snacks Expo 2018

In its assessment of the Snacks Expo 2018 held in Chicago in May, food analysts from Euromonitor noted the several product trends such as mixing up previous recipes as well as taking chances on new ingredients against a backdrop of growing demand for healthy products:

  • New chocolate types (e.g. dark or white integrated into snacks; higher cocoa content in dark varieties)
  • Dual flavor combinations (both in savory and confectionery products)
  • Trail mixes (confectionery and savory combined for maximum flavor variety; meat-based mixes)
  • Healthy, organic snacks (non-GMO, plant-based, vegan)
  • Protein, fiber and probiotic fortified snacks (crackers, cookies/biscuits, bars)

Helping customers develop and test high quality snacks

Staying relevant in the new era of healthy snacking

GEA is committed to finding the right processing solutions to help manufacturers produce snacks that are both healthy and tasty. To do this requires not only application experience and knowledge, but also the ability to test and try out food related ingredients and processes in a safe and repeatable production environment before customers make large investments in launching new products. GEA makes this possible at its diverse test centers across seven different countries around the world where customers can run their ideas through at least 18 different processes and applications – from separation, homogenization, processing, freeze drying and bakery to the aseptic filling of beverages, packaging and much more.

When it comes to baking and confectionery, GEA has many products and solutions for the production of high quality desserts as well as diverse sweet and savory snacks. On a food ingredient level, freeze drying, for example, is ideal for fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat and fish, instant soups, ready-to-eat meals, cereals, bakery and chocolate products. The advantages are numerous, and support the growing demand for healthier, more natural food given: products retain original color and shape, aroma retention, no additives, instant rehydration, long shelf life, need for refrigerated storage is eliminated and products are light and easy to transport.

The increasingly popular probiotic drinks, like drinkable yogurts and other milk-based drinks, are also made possible with GEA technology for fermentation; starter culture production, separation, high pressure homogenization and aseptic filling solutions. The GEA Aseptic Dual Filling System is able to accommodate complex liquid foods, including those that contain pulps, fibers, berries and cereals. With the increased demand for fortified snacks, extracting important nutrients for use in functional foods has become key. Enriching ingredients include: secondary plant substances, vitamins, minerals or bacterial cultures, for which GEA decanters are ideally suited, for example, in extracting beta-carotene, lycopene, phenolic compounds and betalain – all of which have proven health benefits – key to winning over today’s snackers.

Form follows function

A major part of what makes snacks “snackable” is how convenient they are, which includes format and portion size for which packaging plays a major supporting role. For calorie-conscious consumers, smaller bags are ideal, while larger bags are better suited for group snacking and special occasions. GEA flexible packaging technologies are ideal for these tasks, with the packaging itself better suited for printing and therefore a good marketing tool. Flexible packaging also requires a smaller on-shelf footprint than similar rigid formats and ensures a longer shelf-life due to its construction. GEA is working closely with manufacturers and materials suppliers to improve the sustainability of packaging while maintaining the high standards expected by consumers.

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