Healthier, more frequent eating

* 4 min read
Gone are the days when a quick snack meant a jumbo grab bag of crisps or oversized chocolate bar from the corner shop; these days, consumers are demanding more from snacking occasions, whether it’s on the go or at home.

Plant-based snacks derived from nuts, seeds and seaweed are already hitting the mainstream, and chickpea-based snacks saw 150 per cent growth last year. The US and Asia are seeing launches including vegan jerky – trends that soon spread to the European market, particularly as our willingness to experiment with new flavours and ingredients increases. Biltong, jerky and popcorn have seen major NPD and sales success, as protein and reducing sugar intake continue to be a priority.

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Brands like The Food Doctor are seeing mainstream growth, as healthier snacking options move out of the health food aisle and into category, extending the breadth of ingredients and product formats available. Snacking presents a major opportunity for both brands and retailers, as more consumers go for ‘little and often’ over the traditional ‘three square meals a day’. According to the Waitrose Food and Drink Report 2017, squeezing a fourth meal into our day is becoming more and more acceptable. Mintel research shows that Gen Z in particular are a generation of erratic eaters and snackers, with:

Nearly four in five (79 per cent) consumers aged 16-24 are snacking once a day or more, compared to 62 per cent of snackers over the age of 55.

With this growing penchant for between meals eating, snacking has become a major focus of public health initiatives. The Government’s Change4Life recently launched a campaign focusing on kids’ snacking habits, warning parents of the amount of sugar children are taking in from snacks. The ‘Look for 100 calorie snacks, two-a-day max’ message aims to broaden the scope of family snacking to include more fruit, veg and less sugar, adding variety and taste. Research from Public Health England found that overweight children are consuming up to 500 calories a day more than they need, which has driven a push to encourage retailers and manufacturers to reduce calorie content in a range of products by 20 per cent by 2024.

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However, Sun Branding Solutions head of regulatory and legal Phil Dalton says there’s a disconnect between public health campaigns and labelling criteria, which makes it difficult for parents to make an informed decision about the snacks they give their children.

"Current labelling of food is at odds with this message and needs to change if information about salt, sugar and calories is to be used effectively by consumers when they are making a purchase in the aisles," he says.


"The campaign wants parents to make healthier choices for their children’s snacks without telling them exactly what to look for on labels. If parents do look for products labelled as 'healthy' these probably won’t be the products that help them tackle childhood obesity."

Phil Dalton - Head of Regulatory

"There is currently no link at all between labelling a product as ‘healthy’ and the amount of fat, sugar or calories it contains. Also, calories per serving is not required, the legal minimum is to provide this as kcal or kJ per 100g. Research shows that consumers don’t understand current labelling, in particular the inclusion of kJ causes confusion, and now we have this new message which highlights the importance of calories per serving. In many cases the consumer will need to do a calculation based on the 100g values and serving size to see if it meets the 100 calorie criteria."

However, this campaign offers a real opportunity – and incentive – for brands and retailers to offer innovation and inspiration to help families snack more healthily, developing products and ranges that tap in to this functional need.

Fruit and nut brand Whitworths are already moving in to this space with the launch of it’s Bright Little Nuts range – multipacks of natural snacking nuts – focused on the nutritional benefits. This goes to show that there’s not always NPD needed; just a repositioning of a natural product in a childfriendly portion size and pack format that can fit in a pocket or handbag.

Health and ‘betterment’ is a major focus across the board, with more and more consumers demanding convenience that doesn’t compromise their desire to eat healthily. However, as more of us become amateur health experts, it’s vital to strike the right balance between healthier options and great taste, making incremental improvements without spoiling our enjoyment of food. It’s a tough balance between innovation, value, quality and authenticity, and one brands need to get right if they want to build lasting advocacy rather than driving a one-off purchase.