Snacking is an inherently indulgent activity, and manufacturers have historically had no qualms about embracing this fact. But as growth of traditional salty and sweet snacks has slowed and consumers have grown more health conscious, companies have had to slim down their offerings.
This isn’t a new trend, of course. But never has it seemed so urgent as it does now. Walking the floor at a snack food expo in midtown Manhattan last night, in fact, it became apparent that health claims are now a necessity for most snack manufacturers.
Witness the beef jerky with claims of “96% fat free” and “10 grams of protein” per serving. Or the kids’ pudding cups that tout being low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and made without artificial flavors. Even hot fries have gotten a healthy facelift (or so the packaging and press materials would have you believe).
Snacking has always come with a measure of guilt for consumers. But rather than power through those hesitations or just limit their intake, people now want reasons to justify snacking. Manufacturers that don’t provide those reasons risk leaving money on the table.
In some cases, companies have reformulated their less-than-healthy snacks or come out with a healthier alternative to popular brands. The representative from Deep River Snacks, which makes GMO-free, reduced-fat potato chips, brought up Doritos multiple times during conversation as a counterpoint to what they offer. In other cases, it’s a matter of covering up the bad ingredients and playing up the good ones.
Whatever the formula, and no matter what health advocates think of things like all-natural fruit strips, it’s clear that snack manufacturers are all eager to establish some sort of healthy positioning for their brands. This has taken on many different forms, from “100 calorie packs” to “gluten free” to “trans fat free”, and will no doubt take on many more as companies jockey for sales.