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Over the past year, snacks have taken on a new significance for consumers. What were once simple indulgences became sources of much-needed comfort and security during a troubling and uncertain time. Snacks also played a role in breaking up the day for those working from home. One October 2020 survey of US consumers by The Hartman Group found that distraction played a role in a whopping 40% of snacking occasions, while 43% of respondents said they snacked to cope with boredom or frustration.
These changing habits have ignited the development of new products and created new stocking opportunities for retailers. As Britain’s lockdown measures ease, it’s time to take a fresh look at the latest trends in snacking to discover the products that will pack a punch in the months to come.
“Over the past 12 months Covid-19 has significantly changed how consumers go about their day-to-day lives,” says FMCG Gurus marketing manager Will Cowling. And while this initially led to a craving for traditional sweet and salty snacks, a growing health-consciousness is taking root, reshaping consumers’ priorities.
“FMCG Gurus research shows that in February 2021, 63% of consumers stated that the virus has made them more conscious about their overall health,” Will says. “Although the peak of the virus has passed, the concern has risen by 4% from July in 2020. This shows that consumers are re-evaluating their attitudes to health and wellness and questioning what issues beyond the virus could be impacting their overall health, such as current diets and lifestyles and the health risks these pose later in life.”
But the latest health kick doesn’t mean less snacking. Will explains, “Although consumers are stating they are planning on eating and drinking more healthily, 55% of UK consumers state they have snacked more frequently in the last month.” This means a healthy makeover is in order for your snacking aisles.
Matt Hodgetts, speciality and foodservice manager at Peter’s Yard, agrees that healthy snacks will see a boost in innovation, helped by changing government regulations. “The National Food Strategy due in July 2021 and the impact on HFSS [high fat, salt and sugar food and drink] regulations will result in lots of innovation in the category,” Matt says. Indeed, new brands are making the most of this convergence of government regulations and consumer habits with new launches, such as Good & Honest’s popped veggie crisps, Pep & Lekker’s seed snacks the Mindful Snacker’s new Simply Roasted range of healthier crisps.
“Changes in regulations may give secondary space and advertising space to brands whose products comply with the regulations,” Matt says. “This is a fantastic opportunity for better-for-you brands and brings more competition to the market which will give consumers a better selection.”
The push for healthier snacking will also be a call to arms for transparency, with brands that make their ingredients and health claims clear pulling into the lead. “Especially with increased awareness of links between Covid-19 and other underlying health issues, consumers are becoming more aware of what exactly is going into their food,” says Zoe Oates, director at The Honest Bean, which makes fava bean snacks and dips. “This is where brands like The Honest Bean succeed, as it is transparent about what goes into its products, with a minimal ingredient list. They’re also brimming with B-vitamins and high in potassium, magnesium and iron.”
Snacks that have tangible benefits for consumers, such as boosting energy levels or immunity, will be of particular interest. “Consumers are turning to functional snacking options such as high protein bars and typical sports nutrition snacks, highlighting that a proportion of consumers are moving away from traditional snacking products and looking to healthier alternatives,” FMCG Gurus’ Will says. “Protein has been a growing trend for the last couple of years, with around half of all UK consumers seeking to add extra protein to their diets,” Zoe adds.
Lucinda Clay, co-founder of Munchy Seeds, has also noticed a big shift towards snack solutions that “give the satisfaction and great taste consumers love, along with quality, natural ingredients, that also nourish and boost energy”. She continues, “Our seeds fit this consumer demand perfectly, because you can snack on something savoury or sweet whilst enjoying a good dose of protein, fibre and omega 3. A win-win for today’s snackers.”
While health-giving snacks have seen a clear Covid boost, they aren’t the only products consumers are reaching for. As ever, there is also a focus on products with a limited impact on the environment and which make the most of local ingredients.
Traditionally, consumers focused on plant-based options or products with sustainable packaging when seeking out eco-friendly foods. Now, savvy shoppers go even further. “Consumers are no longer just looking at plant-based options, they’re now conscious about the whole supply chain,” says Zoe. “Some foods, such as avocados and almonds, are known for putting a strain on the environment and depleting water resources, making them unsustainable to grow and import.” With conscious consumerism on the rise, it’s no surprise that consumers are beginning to focus on products that use sustainable ingredients. Fava beans, for instance, are grown in the UK, are eco-friendly to farm and offer an alternative to other pulses such as chickpeas which tend to be grown in the Middle East before being transported to the UK to make products including houmous. “Fava beans also fix nitrogen, improving soil health and reducing the need for nitrogen-based fertilisers, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, ticking all the boxes for the growing number of consumers seeking a sustainable option,” Zoe says.
With eagle-eyed shoppers searching for the most sustainable products on the shelves, stocking more sustainable, left-field options could find you a crowd pleaser. Take Small Giants, for example. The brand uses insect powder in its snacks to offer a more sustainable alternative to other proteins. “We are witnessing an epochal transition from traditional meat-based proteins to a wider range of alternatives. This is happening because people are increasingly aware of the devastating impact of traditional proteins,” says Francesco Majno of Small Giants. “I personally believe that we should be forward-looking, aiming towards game-changer solutions that, although more complex, could bring greater benefits to future generations.
“Insects are among the most promising alternatives, offering huge benefits both in terms of nutritional values and sustainability. That’s why at Small Giants we have developed insect-based snacks,” he continues. Could insect-based snacks take off, or is it just a passing fad? “In the past, when a new food was introduced into another culture, it usually took time to be accepted,” Francesco says. “Today, the acceptance phase has drastically shortened, people are now used to dining out and to buying food from all around the world. So it’s not surprising that 42% of Brits are now willing to try insects.”
With lockdown restrictions easing, brands are once again prioritising the development of on-the-go products. “Healthy on-the-go snacking, is undoubtedly a growing market ripe with innovation,” says Julian Campbell, founder of Funky Nut Co. The brand has launched a plant-based peanut butter filled pretzel snack to tie in with the vegan and health trends, and its resealable pack is key, making it ideal for catering to consumers who will once again be snacking while out and about.
Healthy snack brand Kallø is also making a move back to on-the-go eating after a change in habits during lockdown. “Demand increased for Kallø’s jumbo packs of rice and corn cakes during the pandemic, and as lockdown lifts, we’re turning our attention to smaller pack formats to meet the needs of consumers on the move,” says Hayley Murgett, Kallø brand controller at Ecotone UK. “With rice cakes consumed on 1.8 occasions per week and 22.3% of these occasions being ‘carried out’ of home, Kallø is extending its much-loved chocolate and yogurt topped range into an on-the-go twin pack format,” Hayley says.
Although demand for healthy snacks is evidently growing, consumers are still looking to indulge while they snack, occasionally turning to products that don’t necessarily have healthy credentials. “FMCG Gurus’ insights show that products such as potato chips, chocolate and biscuits have increased since July 2020,” Will says. “This suggests that there is a slight attitude vs behavior gap as consumers are not willing to cut out products which they associate with moments of indulgence and comfort in times of uncertainty.”
The sweet spot will be snacks that blend health with providing a source of joy. “As people have spent more time at home over the past year, they have looked to food and drink to provide them with moments of simple pleasure at home,” adds Matt. “Peter’s Yard has played well into this treating occasion.” Indeed, during the Covid pandemic, Peter’s Yard has seen a “significant uplift” in sales in the speciality retail sector, offsetting a fall in foodservice sales. The brand has also seen sales grow due to the rise of meal delivery boxes, cheese subscription boxes, hampers and grazing platters. “With the absence of restaurant trade, consumers have chosen to treat themselves at home and have discovered new speciality products.” With consumers already convinced of the benefits of speciality snacks, it’s up to retailers to stock the right products to satisfy demand.