special edition: healthy snacking

Insects, wholegrains and air-popping to shape future snack innovations, writes ESA chief

By Sebastian Emig

- Last updated on GMT

Snack manufacturers are ready to embrace change. Photo: iStock - Jon Helgason
Snack manufacturers are ready to embrace change. Photo: iStock - Jon Helgason

Related tags Savory snacks Nutrition Saturated fat

European Snacks Association director general Sebastian Emig discusses innovation drivers in Europe's snacks market.
European Snacks Association director general Sebastian Emig

Consumer is king. Nowadays - with the trend towards life optimization and people having access to ubiquitous information concerning food  - we see more consumers looking for healthier food options, without being willing to sacrifice on taste.

In order to stay ahead of the curve, food manufacturers are investing time and money in developing healthier options for the right occasion at the right time.

Improving nutritional footprint

At the forefront of the FMCG market, the European savory snacks industry is a shining example of how manufacturers can improve the nutritional footprint of products while providing taste and pleasure to consumers.

For decades, our industry has invested in R&D to successfully reduce sodium and saturated fat content in our products.

The use of vegetable and high-oleic sunflower oil brought about a tremendous reduction of saturated fats while still providing the consumer with the taste they are used to and love. Salt replacement ingredients and the use of micro-salt have further reduced the sodium content of our products. (That, in any case, only contribute between 1% and 3% of an average adult‘s total salt intake in the EU.)

NPD - the lifeblood of the industry

Besides improving the nutritional content of existing products, the sector is also investing in new technologies and new product development – which is the lifeblood of the savory snacks industry.

Potato crisps remain, for the moment, one of the strongest snacking segments in Europe but there are limited opportunities to innovate. Although manufacturers don’t lack creativity in terms of shape and texture, flavor innovations play an important role and are key to the growth of crisps.

However, in the diverse world of savory snacks, manufacturers have far more possibilities than simply applying different seasoning or changing shapes.

Two relatively recent technologies that are gaining strong traction among consumers in Europe are baking and puffing/air popping.

The fat uptake in a baked product is considerably lower than in a fried one, although a little fat is sprayed on the surface to make light seasoning stick. Air-popped or puffed savoury snacks are produced by entirely omitting the frying process, through application of hot air and high pressure that “pops” the ingredients into shape.

Products resulting from such innovations have performed well in the past couple of years and are expected to further grow in the future.

Wholegrain set to grow

Another growing trend is the use of wholegrain, which offers fiber and provides a different texture perception.

Savory snacks education course

To learn in detail about the savoury snacks industry best practice and the latest practical applications of new technology for the production of savoury snacks, the European Snacks Association (ESA) is running a three-day education course in Berlin from May 23 to 25 2016.

The course, part of a regular programme for savoury snack makers and industry suppliers, combines classroom lectures from industry and ESA technical experts with practical interactive sessions and covers the production of potato chips (crisps) and extruded snacks, tortillas, pretzels and popcorn.

Further details from irebavpn@rfnfanpxf.rh​ or from esasnacks.eu

But as manufacturers explore opportunities to further improve the nutritional composition of their products they can face challenges in terms of processing and a consumer acceptance.

For example, snack manufacturers can produce gluten-free options quite easily because - unlike in bread or other baked goods - gluten doesn’t play an instrumental role in achieving a successful extruded snack. But the up-and-coming trend for protein in savory snacks represents a bigger challenge because proteins at some point start affecting the quality of the product as it does not expand anymore and the texture becomes too hard.

Insect protein - a long way to go

An unsuspected ingredient that might meet this demand is insects. There is still a long way to go given that in Europe the consumption of processed insects doesn’t seem to fit to our cultures and traditions.

Nevertheless, and considering the environmental benefits as well as the nutritional ones, in future we might see insects being milled and molded into different shapes and forms with different flavors.

Snacks manufacturers are ready to embrace change, the question is whether consumers are ready for the healthier innovations that are technically achievable.

Only time will tell, but for manufacturers the journey has already begun.

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