Snack food manufacturers will lighten the lunch box load of schoolchildren this September with healthier and portion-controlled snacks.
Many newly launched items are reformulations of existing snack lines with a fraction of the sugar, salt and trans fat. Portion-controlled packs, particularly those containing 100 calories each, are also popular, retailers told SN.
Another change has been an increased use of whole grains, said Ali VanGorden, registered dietitian for Penn Traffic Co., Syracuse, N.Y.
“I've noticed this with Snyder's of Hanover MultiGrain Pretzels, Chips and Cheese Puffs, and Nabisco Fig Newtons, Wheat Thins and Chips Ahoy! cookies,” she said.
“Whole-grain products typically contain more fiber than their non-whole-grain counterparts, and one of the many benefits of fiber is that it can help you to feel satiated longer, and therefore is important for weight loss.”
Kid-friendly items like Quaker Chewy 25% Less Sugar Granola Bars and Del Monte No Sugar Added Fruit are also popular reformulations, she said.
Penn Traffic is heavily promoting portion control at its stores. Highlighted products at the chain include Nabisco's line of 100 Calorie Packs of Mini Teddy Grahams, Chips Ahoy! and Oreo Thin Crisps varieties.
Pepperidge Farm has also introduced 100-calorie packs of its Goldfish crackers, and Hostess Cupcakes are also available in 100-calorie portions now, noted VanGorden.
“Portion control is essential for weight loss and maintenance, but it's important to note that many of the items that have been reduced to 100 calories have little or no nutritional value,” she said.
Along with pre-portioned salty and savory snacks, VanGorden suggests that retailers promote whole fresh fruit, cheese sticks, low-fat yogurt cups and pre-cut, single-serve fruits and vegetables as healthy snacks.
Jim McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of the Snack Food Association, Arlington, Va., recommends snacks made with whole grains for young people.
“When the U.S. Dietary Guidelines focused on incorporating whole grains, a lot of companies started making whole-grain tortilla chips, pretzels and other snacks,” he said.
“A lot of the snack food companies also committed to the government's Alliance for a Healthier Generation, so they're developing new products that are lower-sodium, have no trans fats and are generally healthier for kids,” he added.
Campbell Soup Co., Dannon, Kraft, Mars and PepsiCo signed on to the initiative to combat childhood obesity in October. In doing so, the manufacturers agreed to introduce new and reformulated products to their school offerings that already met established nutritional guidelines.
NO SYNTHETIC INGREDIENTS
If any retailer understands the quest for health, it's Wild Oats Markets. The Boulder, Colo.-based chain specializes in all-natural products and does not carry any foods containing trans fats or synthetic ingredients, such as sugar substitutes.
Because of the chain's focus, some major brands that are faring well in other supermarkets don't even meet Wild Oats' standards, Beata Pabian, category manager for the retailer, told SN.
“We don't carry products made by companies like Nabisco and Kraft, because many of their foods are made with synthetics,” she noted.
Several natural food manufacturers have tried selling 100-calorie versions of their products at Wild Oats, but many attempts have fallen short.
“The natural 100-calorie packs haven't done well in our stores, because our consumers prefer not to buy products with individual packages stuffed into boxes and wrapped in cellophane, for environmental reasons,” Pabian said. “One company has recently introduced a line of organic cookies and snacks for kids made with less sugar, called Snikiddy Snacks. Those are selling well, and so are Can Do Kid and Clif Kid Zbar energy bars fortified with vitamins and minerals.”
At Highland Park Market, Glastonbury, Conn., select 100 Calorie Packs are being snatched up by health-conscious moms and dads. Shoppers there are buying 100 Calorie Packs of Oreos, Cheese Nips and Teddy Grahams for the kids — and grabbing boxes of 100 Calorie Wheat Thins and Lorna Doones for themselves, said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager at the retailer's South Windsor, Conn., location.
Most other kid-friendly snack purchases at Highland Park aren't as nutritious.
“Other than the 100-calorie packages of chips and cookies, people are mostly buying sugary, chewy fruit snacks promoted with characters from recent movies like ‘Shrek’ and ‘Spider-Man,’” he said. “Rice Krispies snack/cereal bars are also attracting young consumers' attention in this store.”
The retailer also carries two flavors of new Mini Pringles chips, but they haven't been flying off the shelves as of yet, said Cummiskey.
At Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., crackers are outperforming cookies; multigrain and reduced-fat chip items continue to grow in popularity; and sales of portion-controlled snacks are also increasing, said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for the chain.
“All the major manufacturers like Frito-Lay, Nabisco, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm and even traditional sweet goods brands like Entenmann's are working toward portion-controlled packaging,” said Brous. “We also see more healthy words being used, such as ‘whole grain,’ ‘natural’ and ‘low fat.’ The types of oils being used across the industry are also changing.”
McCarthy of the SFA concurred, adding that most snacks produced today are no longer cooked in hydrogenated oils. Instead, companies are using sunflower oil or other oils to eliminate trans fats.
Many manufacturers are even baking their products instead of cooking them in oil, said Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group.
“The elimination of trans fats is a big issue,” he said. “Chip companies are changing the oils they use, but so are cookie companies and others in the biggest-selling categories for kids' snacks, which are cookies, crackers and chips.”
Lisa Katic, nutrition advisor for the SFA, believes fresh produce and thoughtful snack pairings should be at the forefront of retailers' minds.
“Natural options can easily be marketed for consumption by kids,” she said. “Individually wrapped dried fruit, like Sunsweet prunes, are fun for kids to eat, because they come packaged like little pieces of candy and they're naturally sweet. Pre-cut fruit slices or vegetables with dip are also attractive to kids.”
While most retailers are centered on the children's snack category, for some chains, adding healthier chips, cookies and crackers is part of a bigger commitment to branding their stores around key themes like freshness and health, said Taft.
“Health and wellness has become a more general focus for some chains,” he said. “Many are even placing healthier snacks and beverages in key areas like at the checkout and in perimeter departments where they inspire impulse buys.”
Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., is one such retailer. Earlier this year, the company announced its intention to help make American shoppers healthier.
“We're now promoting more of the better-for-you natural and organic products from throughout our stores, including better-for-you kid's snacks,” said Mona Golub, spokeswoman for the chain.
Many of the snack foods at Price Chopper have the health benefits printed directly on the packaging. Common verbiage includes “whole grain” and “trans fat free,” she said.
Some of the items capturing Golub's attention include Lay's chips made with sunflower oil and 100-calorie packs from Nabisco. Portion-control packs from Snyder's, Keebler and Hershey's are also gaining in popularity at the chain, as are Disney-branded produce items.
“Co-branding has been out there for some time, but there is now a connection between brands like SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer and produce items like celery and carrot sticks with dip,” said Golub. “Manufacturers are getting involved, too. Kellogg's is making kids' cereals with whole grains.”
SETTING INDUSTRY STANDARDS
Last month, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. — parent company of snack food brands like Keebler and Cheez-It — revealed plans to significantly revamp its approach to marketing to children by the end of 2008.
Products that are marketed to kids under 12 and that don't meet Kellogg's new nutrient criteria will either be reformulated to meet the standard or they'll no longer be marketed to children under 12 by the end of 2008.
The criteria include an upper threshold per serving of 200 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, zero grams of trans fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of sugar. Almost 50% of Kellogg's products marketed to children worldwide currently fall short of the standard.
“If we elect to reformulate a product, we won't compromise on high quality and great taste,” said David Mackay, president and CEO, Kellogg's. “Wherever possible, our commitment will begin immediately.”
The company vowed to no longer use licensed characters in mass-media ads directed at kids under 12 unless the products meet the nutritional standards.
Kellogg's identifies several of its existing items as wholesome, portable snacks on its website. The list includes Yogos yogurt-covered fruit snacks, Stretch Island Fruit Leather, Kashi GoLean bars and Kashi Chewy Granola bars.
Despite the company's newfound marketing self-restrictions, it introduced several full-flavor munchies in the past year. These products include Cheez-It Stix in cheddar and white cheddar flavors; Keebler Dunking Delights Sandwich Cookies in chocolate and cheesecake flavors; and Rice Krispies Chocolatey Peanut Butter Treats, which are mixed with peanut butter and dipped in chocolate fudge.
Kellogg's is not alone in its commitment to promoting healthier lifestyles.
“The goal of reducing obesity rates and encouraging healthy lifestyles for children and adults is an important cause that the food industry has made one of its top priorities,” said Mary Sophos, senior vice president and chief government official for the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association.
“The industry recognizes that it can help by providing a wider range of nutritious product choices and marketing these choices in ways that promote healthy lifestyles,” she said. “Over the last five years alone, food companies have introduced more than 10,000 new and reformulated products with more whole grains and fiber, reduced calories, reduced saturated fat, zero trans fat, and lower sodium and sugar.”
A HEALTHY MESSAGE
Sophos' comments were heard late last month as part of GMA's testimony before the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet regarding “Images Children See on the Screen.”
Sophos noted that 11 of the leading food and beverage companies, which account for over two-thirds of all TV advertising to children under 12, have announced their commitment to devoting 50% of their ads to healthier foods or to messages that promote health and nutrition. Their pledge is part of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.
“GMA/FPA is also working with the Ad Council on its new campaign with the Department of Health and Human Resources and media groups to bring important messages to parents and kids about health, nutrition and physical activity,” said Sophos. “Moreover, the self-regulatory guidelines of the Children's Advertising Review Unit were recently modernized, broadening their jurisdiction and strengthening CARU's guidance to all children's advertisers, including food and beverage companies.”
In the last three years, GMA/FPA members have contributed more than $100 million for nutrition and health-related activities, according to Sophos.
Sales of snack crackers, pretzels and variety snack packs proliferate amid the declining sales of cookies and potato chips.
|CATEGORY||SALES*||SALES CHANGE (%) VS. YEAR AGO|
|Flavored Snack Crackers||$1.1B||8.2|
|Fruit — Dried & Snacks||$698.0M||1.8|
|Crackers — Sandwich & Snack Packs||$364.8M||3.3|
|Snack — Variety Packs||$223.3M||6.7|
|*Sales in food, drug and mass outlets (excluding supercenters) for the 52 weeks ending May 19. Source: Nielsen Strategic Planner, The Nielsen Group|