Many are, says Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, nutrition expert at NBC's TODAY show, and co-founder of the Nourish Snacks brand (available in Starbucks nationwide, and rolling out to many more accounts this year). But there is still a lot of junk food masquerading as healthy snack food, ‘clean’ labels notwithstanding.
“There are some fantastic snacks available today from That’s It bars to all the popcorn brands like SkinnyPop and Angie’s BoomChickaPop, so I think consumers have a lot more options than ever before,” she told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I think consumers are also becoming a lot smarter about nutrition and reading labels and it makes me happy that companies are stripping out artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners.”
Sugar is sugar is sugar
But she added: “But if you have a snack that has 30g of sugar in it, it doesn’t matter if it’s high fructose corn syrup or organic cane sugar, that’s the bottom line. I like using certain ingredients like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar for the flavor, but I think there is this perception that they are also healthier, in part because of the trace ingredients you get in them [as with sea salt], but you’d have to eat a lot to get any meaningful benefit.
“At the end of the day, sugar is sugar is sugar.”
So how much sugar should be in a snack?
“I think 12g should really be the maximum, “ says Bauer, “and we limit sugar in our snacks – which are all 200 calories or fewer – to 10g.”
Positive nutrition... what's actually in the product?
As for allergens and GMOs, while Nourish Snacks are dairy- and gluten-free and non-GMO, this is about accessibility rather than health, she says. “I’m not saying everyone should go gluten-free or non-GMO. It’s about accessibility, some people have issues with dairy and gluten and I just wanted to make the snacks as accessible as possible. As for GMOs, for me it’s just about transparency – and of course it’s on trend.”
When it comes to positive nutrition – what’s actually in the product as well as what isn’t in it – Nourish Snacks are packed with fruits, nuts, and on-trend ingredients such as quinoa, chia, edamame beans (immature soybeans) and chickpeas, and contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, she says.
Nourish Snacks was founded by Joy Bauer and Gavin McCloskey in 2012, and is now led by CEO Zubin Mehta, who invested in the New York-based company in 2013. The snacks, which were beta-tested online in 2014 and rolled out to 3,400 Starbucks stores in summer 2015, are also available in the first class cabin on some Delta flights, plus select Target and Giant Eagle stores, says Mehta.
"We are looking at launching at a number of major national and regional grocers in the coming months. We’re likely in over 5,000 point of distribution a year in, and expect this number to substantially increase going forward. As we’re just launching our retail business, we see significant opportunity to expand into both natural and conventional grocery in the short term and into mass, drug and big box in the longer term.
"Given the impulse buy and single serve nature of our product, we think it’s a product that’s very well suited for everything from grocery to drug to gift store to convenience stores to fitness clubs and hotels, and we’re seeing significant re-orders at nearly all points of distribution."
200 calories is the sweet spot for snacks
“Protein is an important component, especially if you’re snacking throughout the day and missing meals, but we like to start with wholefoods such as chickpeas that contain protein [rather than adding large amounts of protein powders to boost the protein grams on the front of the pack].”
Ingredients with healthy unsaturated fats, such as nuts, also feature heavily in Nourish Snacks, but Bauer typically balances them with other less energy dense ingredients in order to deliver a reasonably-sized portion and keep within her 200-calorie self-imposed limit.
She adds: “Portion control is really really important when it comes to snacking, and when you have very energy dense ingredients, even if they are full of healthy fats like nuts and avocados, you’ve got to be careful. This is where people are getting in trouble. Fat is not the enemy but it’s very calorically dense [fat has 9 calories per gram whereas proteins and carbs have 4 calories].”
And 200 calories seems to be the sweet spot, she says. “There was a trend towards 100-calorie snacks, but it’s not enough to satisfy most people.”
Nourish Snacks bars will hit the market in Q1, 2016
Nourish Snacks started with bagged snacks, in part because Bauer felt there was a gap in the market for single serve, portion-controlled snacks in bags that served as “great finger food, with a range of different textures – crunchy, chewy – and flavor profiles , sweet, savory, spicy and so on”.
However, the plan was always to move into a variety of formats, and the next product in the pipeline is a range of bars, which will also contain 200 calories or fewer, and will have the same kind of playful names, interesting textures and innovative flavor profiles that consumers have come to expect from the bites/snacks, she says.