TV watching breeds snack attacks?

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Snack makers Nutrition

Watching the television may well influence our snack attacks, finds a new study. And while these findings suggest opportunities for snack makers continue to lie in the TV snacking domain, all signs point to health and wellness snack products as the road to broader margins.

Following a small study, researchers at the UK's university of Birmingham concluded that television watching increased food intake, even after sitting in front of the box.

"These results suggest that the effects of television watching on food intake extend beyond the time of television watching to affect subsequent consumption,"​ say the report authors, Suzanne Higgs and Morgan Woodward in the Appetite journal (Appetite, online 28 July 2008).

Sixteen undergraduate students ate a fixed, 400-calorie lunch either while watching television or in the absence of the TV. According to the researchers, intake of snacks at a tasting session later that afternoon was measured and participants recalled eating the lunch and rated the memory for vividness.

"Participants ate significantly more cookies after they had eaten their lunch while watching television than when they had eaten their lunch while not watching television,"​ they report.

And, intriguingly, they note that watching television while eating lunch was also associated with reduced vividness ratings of the memory of the lunch: "This effect may be related to an effect of television watching on encoding of the memory of the meal,"​ the researchers conclude.

Arguably, a key motivation behind this study was to investigate the notion, increasingly attracting interest, that TV viewing is a risk factor in the development of obesity.

The obesity phenomenon looms over the globe like a dark, heavy, and expensive, cloud but there are a plethora of signs that indicate snack makers should be carving out new business opportunities through the development of snacks squarely positioned to target the mushrooming need for obesity solutions, tangible through health and wellness products.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, in addition to the 400 million adults who are obese, more than 1.6 billion adults are now overweight, with the total cost associated with overweight and obese individuals in the United States alone hovering around a weighty $117 billion.

Tapping into the solutions could bring healthy financial rewards, with a recent report from Credit Suisse projecting the market for obesity fighting consumer staples could hit a massive $1.4 trillion by 2012 as the world's population continues to gain weight.

And inherently nutritious food companies stand to gain the most from this flourishing market by offering a healthier mix of options to better serve consumers.

In a comprehensive report that investigates obesity and parallel investment implications, analysts from Credit Suisse hone in on opportunities for snack players, taking a closer look at US beverage and snack firm PepsiCo and its vision to create just such a healthier mix.

In the 1990s PepsiCo's portfolio was indulgent; but recently speaking at an industry event, PepsiCo's chairman Indra Nooyi argued for how innovation and acquisitions have transformed the portfolio to nearly 45 per cent ‘Good for You’ or ‘Better for You.’

In terms of the North American arm of PepsiCo's snack business, Frito Lay North America, the analysts suggest that its size and scale have given the firm "tremendous scale for R&D that no other snack company can match". ​The firm has further benefited from "a research staff whose objective is to continually pursue healthier profiles for its snacks."

They claim that the US company has been the trailblazer for the industry as a whole, citing its moves to cut trans fats, its shift to healthier oils, and slicing the sugar and salt content from snack products.

"It has also used its great snack brand platforms for creating healthier baked versions of its snacks, such as Baked Lays. And its scale has permitted it to invest in cooking technologies for producing healthier snacks that smaller and underscaled competitors cannot match,"​ they add.

In addition to keeping a sharp interest in health and wellness, snack makers also stand to gain from growing demand for ethnic foods, a market valued for Western Europe at €4.12bn in 2006, according to a recent report from Leatherhead Foods.

Savoury snacks bear a blossoming appeal, and today there are considerably more products available on the snacks market than just crisps and nuts - such as organic snacks, tacos and tortillas that aim to capture the gluten and wheat-intolerant.

The report, The European Ethnic Foods Market, pitched the UK as having the largest and most developed market, worth €2.34bn, followed by France and Germany.

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