60-second interview: Mark Singleton, outgoing chairman of the Snack Food Association; vice president of sales & marketing, Rudolph Foods

SFA outgoing chairman: The lines between meals & snacks are blurring; we’ve seen remarkable changes in consumption patterns

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Mark Singleton: 'Snack taxes are punitive; to punish one sector of the food economy for obesity defies all logic'
Mark Singleton: 'Snack taxes are punitive; to punish one sector of the food economy for obesity defies all logic'

Related tags Snack food association Snack food Meal

According to the March 2015 report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, most Americans now consume two or three snacks a day - news that came as no surprise to the outgoing chairman of the Snack Food Association, Mark Singleton. Elaine Watson caught up with him to talk about mini meals, GMO labeling, and ready-to-eat popcorn...

FNU: What is a snack?

MS: Over the last 40-50 years we’ve seen remarkable changes in consumption patterns. A lot of consumers are eating five mini-meals a day or just smaller portions of things with increasing frequency – and the portability of snacks really plays into that changing pattern. The lines between meals and snacks are really blurring.

Snacks now encompass anything – not just chips and pretzels – but fruit cups, protein packs, things that you maybe wouldn’t have been considered snacks a few years ago. You never used to see snacks in the produce section, but now you have bagel crisps, baby carrots for snacking, individual portion packs of olives, and all kinds of new brands and innovations.

FNU: How is snacking changing?

MS: People are thinking much more in terms of snacking occasions now rather than snacking types.

People are eating more five-minute meals, and it’s not just young people. Take me as an example.  I’m 55 and eat breakfast very early, so by 10.30am I’m rummaging around in our sample room for a little snack, then at lunch I’ll eat less – a small salad and a little protein, and then mid-afternoon I’m looking for something sweet with a cup of coffee, and then a meal at 7pm.  

FNU: How can the industry respond?

MS: Snacks are now in every section of the store, but also in every retail channel. We’re talking to people right now about selling some of our products at Home Depot. And who would have ever thought that Staples would be a solid contributor to snack sales?

The availability of snacks in all of these alternative locations is just reflective of America’s changing eating habits.

FNU: What snacking innovations have impressed you this year?

American snacking habits

According to the DGAC report, snacks account for 24% of daily energy intakes, but 42% of added sugar intakes, with most Americans now consuming 2-3 snacks a day. For children 2-5 years, 29% of daily energy is from snacks, which provide the “lowest percentage of key nutrients (protein, iron, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium) relative to the percent of energy provided”.

MS: Who would have thought that there would be so many beans snacks, granola, fruit-based snacks, and snacks with all these seeds and ancient grains? There have been remarkable innovations with quinoa and flax seeds and chia.

barnana expo west
Mark Singleton: 'You never used to see snacks in the produce section, but now you have bagel crisps, bay carrots for snacking, individual portion packs of olives, and all kinds of new brands and innovations.'

There have also been some great innovations in ready-to-eat popcorn, and a lot of it has been very entrepreneurially driven by new companies and brands. People have taken a product we all know and love and created something with far fewer calories per cup. 

FNU: Your business [Rudolph Foods] is best known for pork rinds. How are they doing?

MS: Pork rinds are growing at 10% year-on-year, and I think the protein drive is a big part of that. People don’t think of them as healthy, but they’ve got zero carbs, zero trans fats and more protein than peanuts.

FNU: How is the Snack Food Association doing?

MS: The Snack Food Association is growing; we’re bringing in companies that we wouldn’t even have thought of as snacks five years ago. Our international presence is  also expanding greatly and that’s been a huge part of our focus. We’ve gained more than 40 members in the last two years.

FNU: What are the regulatory issues that keep snack makers awake at night?

MS: On the regulatory front, the past year has been one of the most challenging we’ve ever seen. Take GMO labeling. It’s literally inconceivable that anybody in the food business could have a different label for every state. We need a federal solution so we don’t have a piecemeal patchwork of GMO labeling laws; that’s such a huge thing for us.

ben-and-Jerry--No-GMO
Mark Singleton: 'We need a federal solution so we don’t have a piecemeal patchwork of GMO labeling laws'

We think the ​[Mike] Pompeo [R-KS] bill ​[the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act 2015, H.R. 1599​, introduced by Mike Pompeo and G.K. Butterfield] is a wonderful solution and we think it is going to do very well. So I’m very optimistic that logic and reason will rule the day.    

If the consumer wants non-GMO that’s what we’ll do, that’s the way the market should operate. For example, we ​[Rudolph Foods] own a popcorn company​ [Gas Lamp Popcorn] that’s non-GMO, because that’s what the consumer of this product wants, but having 50 different laws in 50 different states is simply something that is not economically feasible.

FNU: What about snack taxes, and the FDA proposal to include added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel?

MS: Snack taxes are punitive; to punish one sector of the food economy for obesity defies all logic. As for labeling, I don’t really see listing added sugars on the Nutrition Facts panel ​[as proposed by the FDA] as being especially useful for consumers as they can already see the total sugar in a product.

FNU: What is the SFA’s position on the FDA proposal to revoke the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils to tackle trans fats?

MS: I don’t think a blanket ban is the right approach. The industry has already made significant reductions in PHOs and in a lot of cases they are in things like processing aids where the quantities are negligible.

FNU: Why is reform of the sugar regime so important to SFA members?

American consumers would benefit from an open market for sugar and they pay more for their food because of this regime. It’s just one of those Depression-era things that should have gone a long time ago. Why should sugar growers get subsidized and not potato growers, peanut growers, cotton growers? These programs are of a place and time that’s long past.  

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