Photo courtesy of Kowalskirsquos

Photo courtesy of Kowalski’s

Snacking Trend Turns Healthy at Supermarkets

Supermarkets and their suppliers are making sure ‘healthy’ and ‘snack’ can co-exist in the same sentence, and it’s paying off, as the snack trend continues to grow

Fresh fruit slices packed with yogurt dip, singly packed slider sandwiches, and even whoopie pies in mini-size are ringing up sales.

What’s more, supermarkets are putting up banners and signs that call attention to snacks, often reminding customers that snacks can be healthy.

A recent study by Mintel, a Chicago-based consumer research firm, shows 65% of respondents are interested in healthy snacks, but 71% believe healthy snacks are more expensive than less healthy ones.

That’s a belief that’s not always borne out. Not when a single egg-salad or turkey and lettuce slider is $1.25 at Karns Quality Foods, and combos such as pineapple, strawberries and mango in an 8-ounce cup, with a spoon, retail for $2.99 at Kowalski’s.

“We’ve seen a big increase in sales of single-serve items,” said Terri Bennis, vice president, fresh food operations, at nine-unit Kowalski’s Markets, St. Paul, Minn.

“Especially some of our new items like our ‘Crunch & Munch Snacker,’ which combines pretzel sticks, baby carrots and peapods. Our fruit snackers go very well, too.”

At Kowalski’s, the focus on healthy snacks was customer-driven.

“We were hearing at our consumer group meetings that people wanted healthier options in snacks,” Bennis told SN. “We started with a couple of facings and it just exploded.”

Read more: Kowalski’s Ramps Up Culinary Teaching Events [3]

From two facings, the display, replenished every day, has grown to four feet of a three-tiered, refrigerated case in the deli’s self-service section, which features a large sign saying “Snacks On the Go.”

One of the most popular items is a compartmentalized container that houses almonds, cheese and apple slices.

The deli gets the ring for items, but the produce department has a section with similar items that ring up sales for it.

Fresh fruit snackers, featuring several varieties, have been given appealing names such as Caribbean Dream and Hawaiian Crush.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Afternoon Delight, too, which combines cheese, grapes and strawberries on a small tray,” Bennis said.

Just about everything that can be handheld is being offered in smaller packs, including sushi in packages with just four pieces, and small cups of cheese “bites.”

Kowalski’s was out ahead of the current trend a few years ago with cut fruit in small containers displayed up front, and Bennis said they’re still doing well.

While “snacks” at one time brought to mind the image of high-calorie fare, or otherwise something less -than-healthy, that’s no longer true.

While snacking around the clock started in the foodservice arena with such items, “healthy” has become important.

In fact, the Chicago-based research firm, NPD Group, this fall found that consumers following the healthiest diets snack twice as often as those with less healthy diets.

“We are no longer as averse to snacking as we used to be — instead, snacking may be viewed as one way to improve healthy eating habits,” said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, in a statement with NPD’s report. “This way of thinking about snacking provides an opportunity for manufacturers to make health and wellness innovation part of their product development and marketing strategy.”

Prepackaged Produce Snacks

Indeed, at K-VA-T [4]’s Food City store in Louisa, Ky., one of the newest and fastest-moving snack items is an individual, prepackaged single spear of fresh pineapple.

“You just rip off the top of the package, and you’ve got a handheld, no-mess piece of pineapple for $1,” said Lequitte Perry, produce manager at the store. “We go through a lot of those. Those are from Fresh Express.”

Another prepackaged item that’s popular at Food City is a small, round container of grape-sized tomatoes.

The store also sells a cup of fruit with a plastic spoon attached.

Perry has been aggressively promoting healthy snacks in the form of whole fruit — apples, oranges and bananas — for years.

Each year, this Food City store holds a Ready Fest featuring fruit right before school starts.

Having introduced children and their parents to the convenience and the healthfulness of fresh fruit, Perry is not surprised that fresh fruit and vegetable snack items are now selling well.

Single-serving packages of fruits and vegetables are popular with customers. Photo courtesy of K-VA-T

“I know we’re ahead with those items this year compared to this time last year. I don’t have sales numbers, but I can tell you I have to keep replenishing my inventory. Very frequently.”

One of the most popular is a line of cut fruits and vegetables, and a dip packaged with them.

“For instance, we have apples with peanut butter, apples with caramel sauce, celery with peanut butter, and baby carrots with ranch dip,” Perry said.

Photo courtesy of K-VA-T

“We’re devoting at least twice as much space to fresh snack items in produce as we were a year ago.”

A huge apple, crafted from felt by Perry, hangs over the display with the message “Healthy Snacking.”

Her most recent venture with getting kids to eat healthy took place downtown this past weekend. A community festival that focused on three elementary schools gave Perry and her Food City associates the perfect opportunity for promoting healthy eating. They distributed apples, oranges and bananas to 400 elementary school kids.

Not all customers are looking for the “healthy” in snacks, but there’s no doubt the snack trend is growing.

“People are eating all the time,” one industry source told SN.

But since they’re on the go, and seemingly busier than ever, consumers want easy eating.

“All in all, snacking is happening more often than meals and has grown to define much of the way we eat,” The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., said in a recent e-newsletter.

Flavor Trumps Healthy

At Karns Quality Foods in Mechanicsburg, Pa., flavor often trumps healthy as customers look for snacks to eat on the go, said Andrea Karns, vice president, marketing, at the eight-unit independent.

With a bow to customers’ quest for quick and easy eating, the company is packing everything from Lebanon bologna and whoopie pies to specialty cheeses in single-serve versions.

“We’re selling single-serving sizes of cubed Lebanon bologna [a smoked sausage], a delicacy in central Pennsylvania, and we’re also combining them with cheese cubes in a small plastic container,” Karns said.

The in-store bakery also is having sales success with single cake slices and mini whoopie pies, a regional favorite made mostly of chocolate with either a peanut butter or vanilla filling.

“The minis are about the size of a 50-cent piece, and we’re putting three in a package,” Karns said.

Read more: In-Store Bakeries Cater to Customers [5]

She added that in the deli, what the company dubs “value sandwiches” are picking up in sales. They’re slider-sized sandwiches in a number of varieties, such as turkey and cheese and egg salad, packed individually and retailed for $1.25 to $1.49.

Right now, in Karns Foods’ test kitchen, a line of store-made dips is in the making. They’ll be packaged in relatively small microwavable containers.

“We know people are entertaining more with snacks, and simpler things. We’re hoping to have the dips ready by March,” Karns said.

March Madness, when people gather to watch college basketball teams fight it out, stands out as a big time for snack sales.

At Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets, the spotlight has been, and will continue to be, on healthy choices.

“Our deli departments have had success with individual-serving-sized cut organic fruit such as pineapple, oranges and grapefruit,” spokesperson Diana Chapman said.

She also referred to the company’s website, which puts a focus on other deli snacks and ideas for making healthy, and interesting, snacks for kids.

Referring to March Madness, PCC’s website says, “Rather than sitting down with the usual bag of chips, turn to PCC for delicious snack options that can be healthier, too. The PCC Deli is filled with goodies, from taquitos to risotto cakes, artisan cheese to all-natural charcuterie.”

Industry sources agree that the snacking trend is here to stay, and it offers supermarkets new opportunities that hold excellent sales potential.

Industry consultant Brian Salus emphasizes that the supermarket is the logical source when it comes to consumers’ snacking needs.

“But ‘easy’ and ‘no fuss/no mess’ apply,” said Salus, founder and president of Salus & Associates, Mathews, Va.

“Holiday meals allowed the host or hostess to spend more time with their guests and less time in the kitchen, and the same philosophy applies when snack-style foods are the main course.”

Salus suggests marketing the convenience of easy-to-eat snacks via the retailer’s website and social media channels as well using in-store marketing materials and demos to take advantage of the current snacking trend.

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